Most organisation tips come from the well-organised. Colour coding and advanced filing systems work for them because it’s in their nature to code, plan, straighten, and label.
If it’s in your nature to throw every not-quite-clean, not-quite-dirty article of clothing you own onto a chair, those systems are about as easy to stick with as a no-carb diet.
Sandy Maynard knows this all too well. In the past 20 years, she has helped countless people get organised. Though she's a pioneer in the field of ADHD coaching, her simple, effective tips can work for anyone.
Maynard offers great advice on changing our environments, habits, and mindsets to bring order to our lives.
First, set up a launch pad. Find a space near your door where you can always keep items like your keys, jacket, and briefcase or tote bag. Maynard recommends also keeping a small errand list there, reminding you to drop off your dry cleaning or return library books.
“On the way out in the morning you have a visual instead of walking around the house looking for ten different items in ten different places,” said Maynard. “It keeps you from being late or forgetting things.”
Once you have a launch pad established, you can start on the first step: purging.
“I use ‘purge’ because it’s a real harsh word. It’s difficult for us to do,” Maynard said.
As I was purging clutter from my office, I found myself holding up an object and asking, “How could I use this?” Maynard said I should have been asking myself a different question: “How could I live without this?”
Purging doesn’t mean sending everything to a landfill. For the things you can live without, try donating them.
Part of reducing clutter is to stop welcoming it into your home. For me, refusing swag items like branded smartphone cases and using reusable items such as a whiteboard for doodles has helped me organise my desk.
Maynard said that if a task takes two minutes or less to accomplish, do it right away.
Make it a habit of hanging up your coat right when you walk in the door. If someone calls you, save their contact information immediately after they hang up. Self-correct along the way, she said. If you notice your keys are on the coffee table, return them to your launch pad.
Whenever I got an alert that a password was about to expire, I would decide to do it later. I would inevitably miss the deadline and have to make a trip to IT. Updating them right away, however, has saved me time. And by not procrastinating, I have one less to-do item rattling around in my head.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, slowing down also saves time in the long run. “Haste makes waste,” Maynard said. “When we’re rushing is when leave our credit card on the counter. Even if I’m in the express lane at the grocery store, I take my time to put my credit card back where it goes.”
“Put some value on the things that need to be done,” Maynard said. “It’s easy to say, ‘It doesn’t matter if I put my groceries away.’ But it does matter.” If you don’t put your groceries away, you won’t have space to make lunch in the morning, so you might end up knocking over your coffee and having a spill to clean up, she said.
But prioritising organisation is a bit like prioritising exercise. I know I should do it and that it will help me down the road, but can’t I just watch TV instead?
To help with the boredom factor, I called in Ian Bogost, author of “Play Anything” and expert on the philosophy of play. According to Bogost, categorising our lives into bins of work and play dooms us to a certain kind of misery. We also miss out on the delight everyday tasks have to offer. “Everything is potentially interesting,” Bogost said. “You can look at play as a way of describing the way you can manipulate and work with a system of any kind.
A practical application of this might be folding clothes. If you find yourself bored, that doesn’t mean you’ve sucked all interest out of folding your clothes. It means you’ve unlocked the next level, and now you can focus on finding speedier ways to fold or creating a visually-pleasing result.
A slight change in mindset – prioritising organisation and finding joy in doing it – can make a world of a difference.
I don’t beat myself for slip-ups, Maynard said. If she rushes into a parking space and gets a ticket, she doesn’t see it as a sign of failure, but as a reminder to slow down. “I don’t say, ‘Oh you dummy, you didn’t read the sign, you always do this.’ I say, ‘You know what? This is a good reminder that I need to slow down,’” Maynard said. “Any systems or strategies I’ve put in place I have to maintain. Yeah, it’s hard work. But it’s work that pays off in the end.”