Organizational Skills

Organization is a tough thing.

You can only try to teach it to your kids.  I have friends whose high school bedrooms were pristine that live in filth now.  My own childhood bedroom was an absolute pig sty: I cleaned it once, shortly after graduation, completely of my own accord, and now I cannot stand a messy house.  And that’s only physical organization– this says nothing for the professionals I know whose desks are cluttered with a thousand different projects or the students who open their notebooks to random pages when they’re taking notes.

It drives me up a wall.  Because that used to be me– hell, the projects thing still is me.

So here are some tips.  Don’t let the fact that I’m posting this a day late dissuade you from listening.

Manage your time.

There are a few different types of organization, and being good at one of them doesn’t mean you’re good at all of them.  The most crucial of these is time management– getting a feel for how long it takes you to do a task, and organizing yourself accordingly.  Does it take you half an hour to do dishes, or do you just rinse them? Fifteen minutes or an hour to put away your clothes? If you want to translate a passage of Xenophon’s Anabasis by Friday, how much time does it take you to sit down and do it?

But there’s more to this than just setting aside blocks of time to do something.

Managing your time means being aware of how you spend your time.

Say you’re cleaning up your library.  There are books all over the place and somehow your underwear got wedged between Plato and Doyle, plus you’re using a cream cheese lid to keep your place in Harry Potter.  It’s messy, but not unreasonably so– yet it still takes you well over an hour.  How are you spending that hour? Are you meticulously re-organizing your books? Or did you pick up a book, get nostalgic, and start reading for a bit? Are you scraping the cream cheese off Severus Snape? Or are you somehow halfway through chapter thirty-three of The Deathly Hallows and fending off the feels?

Say you’re driving down the street to get milk.  Ten minutes– in and out. But how many traffic lights do you hit? How long is the line? Ten minutes can turn into thirty, easy.

There’s nothing wrong with taking your time when it comes to chores.  But it’s so easy to underestimate how long it takes you to do something, and then the rest of your schedule gets screwed up.


Manage your space.

I personally cannot stand a messy desk.  Or a messy kitchen. It will drive me up the wall until I’m hiding in a corner of the ceiling.  But managing your space doesn’t mean that things have to be spotless: just under your control.  If you think best with a little clutter, like my college roommate? Go for it. If you want to throw everything out and have room to breathe, like my mother? Your call.

The tricky part is knowing whether what works for you actually works for you, or if you just don’t want to do the work to get there.

And the best way to figure that out is to live for a little while in a space that you’re not used to.  Naturally a clean person? Let the dishes sit overnight once in a while.  Leave your pants on the floor once in a while.  Naturally messy? Spend a week picking up after yourself and see how it changes your thinking habits.

You can’t manage your space until you break your habits.


Manage your thoughts.

This is probably the hardest one.

I’d say 90% of us are really just balls of emotion, bouncing from day to day like a wayward Super Ball in a mirror maze.  This can make organizing your thoughts a little difficult– emotion doesn’t like to be put in boxes, and thought processes don’t always follow a logical path.

We spend a huge amount of our childhood learning how to categorize things.  Emotions, education, relationships, you name it.  We spend a huge amount of our adulthood frustrated with things that don’t fit into the right categories. All our school subjects blend together after a while: science and history and literature are all influenced by one another.  Relationships aren’t always cleanly defined: hell, I myself recently “broke up” with a friend of over a decade in a way that mirrored the end of a long-term relationship, yet there was nothing romantic between us.  Things aren’t neat, they aren’t clean.

So when you organize your thoughts, make your own connections.  Rather than trying to fit the world into your boxes, make new boxes around new information.  See what works for you.

Basically, kids have the right idea.  Never stop learning.


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