Being Organized: Not a Skill, But a Mindset (DE Coast Press)

The new year can be an occasion for people to organize their schedules and prioritize their goals. But some tell me that they sometimes make their schedules too inflexible. It is true that an organized schedule reflects an organized mind. But if you want to improve your organizational skills, start by asking yourself: “What do I want to accomplish in a particular period of time? How much of this is realistic? And what’s the order of priority?” Jot down answers to these questions and make an outline. This is a necessary first step.

A lot of people think the only key to organizing is the technique. However, techniques are secondary to actual reflection and thought. If you’re giving thought to what you wish to accomplish and why, you’re already halfway there. When people suggest to me that their organizational techniques are too inflexible, I suggest that the inflexibility might indicate a deeper issue. For example, in many cases people become rigid because they’re anxious. With anxiety comes uncertainty, and the most likely cause is that they haven’t thought out their daily goals in a clear and realistic manner. As the day begins to back up, and unrealistic goals are not achieved, the anxiety creates more rigidity and inflexibility.

The thinking-out of goals is, in itself, the method of organization. If you spend a few minutes quietly identifying and setting realistic limits on your goals by narrowing them down based on priority, then you have an achievable to-do list. I’m not saying that the to-do list alone is a sure-fire path to organization, but I am saying that the thinking that goes into it is what ultimately counts.

I can’t overemphasize the importance of making sure your goals are achievable and realistic. It doesn’t matter how much you want or hope to get done in a day. What matters is how realistic it is to get everything done. Since there will probably be more things to do than can actually be done in a day, you have no choice but to confront your priorities.

Without that confrontation, your emotions will do your prioritizing for you. This will lead to thoughts like, “I should get this or that done.” Well, maybe you should. But is it possible? Does it reflect a rational order of priorities; one that fits with your time and goals? Emotions cannot answer these questions; only conscious reason and logic can. Emotions are good at telling us what’s important by expressing the desires, “I want, I should, I ought to….” But shoulds and oughts must be tempered by reasoning and thinking.

Good organization reflects well-considered priorities. The biggest mistake I see people make is the failure to have a clear set of priorities. As a result, they get distracted because they don’t know what’s more important than something else. If they had taken the time to consider their order of priorities, then that rigidity (i.e., commitment) might actually help. Though the word “rigidity” usually means sticking to something arbitrarily or even irrationally, if you’re a busy person you’re not always going to accomplish everything you want on a given day. And that brings us back to taking responsibility for our priorities.

If your to-do list is realistic and based on a rational hierarchy of your concerns, you won’t need to resort to rigidity to get things done. Things will flow naturally, the way you want them to. You’ll be less anxious, and you’ll feel better about yourself. What better way to start a new year!

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