This article first appeared on Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 3: Organizing, subscribe and buy here
In issue 1 we introduced the principles of CORE (Collect, Organize, Review, Eliminate) and explained how the Collecting principle can be used to make mindful choices about how you gather the information needed to go about your daily life.
The second fundamental principle of CORE is Organizing, and it plays an equally crucial part in how you design your productivity platform and habit patterns.
It’s worth remembering that we also discussed the “Lego House” model and how important it is that your productivity platform reflects the philosophies, processes, and tools that resonate with you as an individual, not what we or any other self-styled productivity gurus dictate. No, the CORE principles are designed to facilitate a thought process that will enable you to determine how to put the desired mechanisms in place that will enable you to lead a more mindful and purposeful life; they are not intended to be a specific set of steps that you must follow precisely.
It’s important to understand how fundamentally connected Collecting and Organizing are. Mindful collection vastly reduces the amount of information garbage in your life. Once purged of garbage, all the other information in your life is meaningful, has a purpose, and requires some degree of organization.
What is Organizing?
Merriam Webster defines Organizing as:
“The act or process of putting the different parts of something in a certain order so that they can be found or used easily.”
Within CORE, we define it as:
Assuring that we have the resources available at the right time and in the right place to support the frictionless execution of goal-oriented actions.
This definition addresses the fundamental aspects of What, When and Where.
The when is particularly important if you have a lot of commitments to meet. It becomes increasingly important that your organizing activities take place in those time frames where you have time to spare so that you can achieve frictionless flow in your tasks when the time is precious and limited. Organizing is not only about the effective administration of tasks; it is about preparing for a future point where an action is needed and time is scarce. To put it another way, org-**/anized people do this thinking when they can, to avoid having to think about it when they *can’t.*
Organizing in relation to CORE is the act of going through your unorganized tasks within your productivity platform and moving them forward towards your goals. The goal is not to focus on any particular organizational method or technique you might find out there; you need to find what works for you and stick with it, understanding that it is only a part of the larger Lego House you are building for yourself.
“Organizing is not only about the effective administration of tasks; it is about preparing for a future point where action is needed and time is scarce.”
Organizing mindfully is more important than organizing “the right way”. You’ll often find that the techniques and methods applied successfully by others and recommended to you won’t work; for the simple reason that most other people don’t think and behave the same way as you. That’s why there are so many different techniques and methods that some people will swear by, whilst others fail to make them work.
Organizing needs to be organic; it needs to evolve with you and your needs in order to liberate your time. If you pursue organizing as a mindful activity, you will avoid the other extremes of being messy or over-organized. Over-organization is sometimes referred to as “productivity porn” and like any other vice, is a hidden form of procrastination; something to be avoided. In other words, *doing productivity* and *being productive* are completely different things.
Dissecting Organizing – How to Organize within CORE
CORE offers some simple principles to help you to think effectively about how to organize your thoughts, and the information in your life. You don’t need a complicated flowchart to achieve this! In its most basic form, organizing boils down to:
– Decision: The act of identifying a new piece of information, determining what it is and what to do with it
– Destination: Determining where the information needs to go, whether it needs to be stored and if so, where
– Recall: The ability to bring the information from its stored location to mind at an appropriate time
Decision is the point where collecting turns into organizing. Decisioning is about being able to identify quickly what sort of information you’ve just collected, in order to be able to determine what to do with it. It’s something that you’ll get better at doing over time, particularly if you pay attention to your thought process as you do it. Once you’ve assessed what kind of information you’re dealing with, you then need to decide what to do with it. Commit it to memory? Act on it immediately? Making good decisions about whether to act on this information now or later will significantly improve your organizational skills.
Once you’ve decided that the information needs to be kept somewhere, you need to pick a **destination.**
Do you write it down in your calendar? On a task list? Some people have a very structured sense of their destinations, for others, it’s more fluid. Our minds naturally gravitate to certain organizational systems, with some professionals more in tune with the concept of “destination” than others. Some people keep their keys in a place that triggers their brain to pick up keys as they pass it; others will set themselves reminders or leave themselves notes. These habits form part of a ritual, a “mental trigger” for the organization. Whether you prefer to write everything down, store it all in your head or somewhere in between, it’s important to recognize that it’s not as black and white as a right solution and a wrong solution.
Recall completes the circle. Being able to access the information you’ve stored somewhere at the right time is critical; otherwise, what’s the point in storing it at all? Recall can take the form of automated reminders, visual cues, productivity habits or mental contexts. Recall and destination are deeply interconnected as our ability to recall the item is often determined by the quality of the destination we previously gave it.
Take a Good Look At Yourself
Before you move on to changing your organizational habits, take a moment to do a quick inventory of your existing organizational habits. Do any of these characteristics sound familiar?
The Obsessive Organizer
The Obsessive Organizer isn’t happy unless everything is in its proper place. Armed with labels, colored pens, folders and every gadget tool known to man, the Obsessive Organizer follows one or more productivity systems to the letter in the pursuit of productivity Nirvana. Convinced their system is the very pinnacle of productivity, the Obsessive Organizer will often evangelize the benefits of their chosen method to anyone willing to listen, and even those who aren’t.
Key Strengths: attention to detail, mastery of processes and deep knowledge and understanding of productivity methods.
Key Weaknesses: like to be spending a significant proportion of their time “doing organizing”. Doesn’t cope well when the system fails or is disrupted. Lacks flexibility.
The Messy Creative
The messy creative believes that they don’t *have* a system, and that thing generally work out by themselves. Their desk or workspace is cluttered with information, Post-Its, clippings and other paraphernalia. Their email inbox is bulging with unread and unreplied items, but then the people who are important to the Messy Creative know better than to try and communicate via email…
Key Strengths: Nimble, flexible and full of new ideas. Able to process something in fresh and interesting ways.
Key Weaknesses: Tendency to chaos. Tasks will be late and appointments missed. Finds it difficult to delegate tasks in a structured way.
The Confused Novice
The confused novice has recently realized that there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day and is looking for help in becoming more productive. They may have read a book or two, perhaps even tried to implement some techniques, but have become disheartened at how convoluted everything seems. Their frustration is compounded by their apparent inability to execute what everybody else out there on Amazon and Google seems to be raving about as ‘straightforward’ and ‘intuitive’. Strangely, the Confused Novice now seems to be spending more time trying to apply these techniques than actually doing real work, so things seem worse than ever…
Key Strengths: Open to new ideas. Willing to experiment with new techniques. Likely to enthuse others with the discovery of new ideas to try out.
Key Weaknesses: Tendency to get disheartened, or even give up. Feelings of failure after trying to “jump in at the deep end” can lead to a worsening of productivity. Stop-start approach to trying new things can be disruptive to themselves and others.
These examples are clearly caricatures, but many people will identify one or more traits that they exhibit, or have experienced at some point. Organizing is a fluid process that can feel quite chaotic when you’re in the midst of determining the organizational habits that support your natural strengths and aptitudes.
Whether you identify with the Obsessive Organizer or the Confused Novice, by understanding that Organizing is a mental process that you control and can shape to work the way you * want it is the first step towards greater productivity. Make a mental assessment of how well you execute the steps of Decision, Destination and Recall today and consider what actions you could take to improve them.
With a greater awareness of both Collecting and Organizing, you have two powerful components to work within the construction of your personal productivity platform and habit set. Organizing makes the journey towards your goals smoother and more streamlined; Future chaos and stress can be avoided with a small time investment up front. You know the next step; all you have to do is take it.