I like to think of good organization as a set of systems that run in the background of your life. Like breathing or blinking, once your organizational systems are up and running they should take fairly little effort to maintain and benefit you every day.
Here are some systems I employ that keep things running in my daily life:
- Specific, easy-to-search computer organization
- Weekly meal planning and grocery shopping to save time and money
- Budgeting & bill pay hacks that let me save money and not spend a lot of time on finances
- Day-to-day task and to-do organization
Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) has some interesting things to say about using systems instead of goals in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Pulling directly from his book:
To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach that goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game.
If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or set new goals and reenter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure.
The systems-versus-goals point of view is burdened by semantics, of course. You might say that every system has a goal, however vague. And that would be true to some extent. And you could say that everyone who pursues a goal has some sort of system to get there, whether it is expressed or not. You could word-glue goals and systems together if you chose. All I’m suggesting is that thinking of goals and systems as very different concepts has power. Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.
The systems-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavors. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.
Here’s how this can be applied to organization. Being an organized person or keeping my house/finances/work organized are goals. Using the Scott Adams definition, every time you’re not perfectly organized, you’re failing at those goals. However, if you can put in place useful and easy-to-maintain systems that keep things organized, each time you use a system you’re making your life a little easier.
Being a Cult Member doesn’t mean being perfectly organized all the time. It means identifying areas that are sucking up your time because they are disorganized, and applying simple systems to improve that. Ultimately, good organization should create more time, space, and peace. If your organizational systems are taking more time, space, brain power, or money than they’re saving, they’re not working.
Since you’re reading this blog, it seems likely that you have some organizational goals. What are they, and could they be replaced by systems that have a longer-term impact?