Organizing Todo Lists and Information Gets Things Done
Organizing. You’ve probably thought about, at one time or another,
why do some people seem to be very organized and others don’t find
it necessary at all? I have a quick theory to share with you about
what drives organization, but more importantly two tips to help you
get things done, regardless of how you organize.
First the theory. Yes, people organize differently. Look at todo lists for
example. Some people make them up as they come to mind… just jot
it down, or if it was a closet, just throw it in there. Some organize todos
around concepts or topics or projects, some around dates, some around
urgency, some around people.
Not only do we organize differently, but we also vary in the amount
of effort we spend in organizing. Most of us vary over time. In fact
lots of things effect organization. Personal preference, time of day,
So here’s my theory about what drives your level of organization.
It’s in the rear view mirror.
What? That’s right, the need to organize is ultimately driven by the
consequences for not being able to find stuff, not your aspiration or
aptitude for organizing.
Being able to find stuff is what drives us. Or more accurately the
consequences for not being able to find stuff. Reminds me of working
on a project for Nokia years ago, and how that all the developers
documented their code every week – something that gives most
development houses trouble. Why? Because the consequence for
not organizing and documenting your work was that you didn’t get paid.
So my theory is that the emotional consequences, in this case for not
being able to find stuff, is what drives our organization behavior. If
there’s minimal impact or consequence for not having something at
your finger tips, then you probably won’t spend a lot of time or invest
a lot of time in organizing it, whether it’s information at work or stuff
in your garage.
Personal comfort, and most of the time that means likelihood of
being uncomfortable, is the engine that drives the need to organize.
Avoiding discomfort is the pay-off for the pain of the extra work required
to categorize, place, and all the other tasks that are involved in
organization. If there’s no discomfort, especially immediate discomfort,
whether generated externally (your boss or spouse) or internally
(you don’t like things messy, it makes you feel tense), then you’re
probably going to just leave it in a stack somewhere, place it on a shelf,
drop it where you last used it, etc.
So here’s my best tip to assist you at work when it comes to
organizing information. MAKE IT HIGHLY VISIBLE & FLEXIBLE.
It’s one of the reasons I depend on using an information management
technology, like ManagePro. Whether I’m organizing by person or
by date, by project or by category, by sight or by look-up on a key
word; it’s all in one place and very visible. The key is that I can find
anything I’ve put in the system, regardless of how much effort I put
into organizing the data when I put it in, or regardless of which
organizing principle I’m using. Make sense?
In fact, whatever system you use for organization, it will only be effective
if it helps you “find stuff.” If you create a management software system
today that you can’t recall the following day, your organization can actually
get in the way of finding stuff.
I do this some times when I’m tired at the end of the day and think
“I’ll just put this set of keys, or this book, or… here because this is a
logical place to remember to find it”, only to struggle the following day
to remember exactly what creative place I had found to store, read
organize my keys.
My second tip. This has immediate implications for managing
other’s, especially when you wish them to be more organized.
Remember the key is discomforting consequences… not preaching
about the values of organization. Aspirations, discussing the value
of organization, making it part of your process is all great and tends
to fade over time. Remember its ultimately emotional consequences.
Just think Nokia and you’ll be fine.
We all have quite a bit of diversity and enduring patterns of behavior
influencing how we organize tasks and information. Admidst all that
diversity, what I find most consistent is that the consequences for not
finding stuff is the key factor that drives how much effort we put
into organizing. And finally, when at work what I find most helpful
is a tool like ManagePro that helps me use multiple ways of organizing
data, and regardless of how “organized” I am at any moment, provides
one place to view it all and to find it.