The real secret to getting organized—get comfortable being uncomfortable
Occasionally, I receive a request from a coworker or friend that sounds something like this: "I'm envious of how organized you are. I'd love to know if you have any tips or tricks for me?" I always feel a bit strange about these requests. It's not the request itself that makes me uneasy; I'd love to help. The problem is that I'm almost certain my answer to their inquiry will disappoint.
The simple truth is that I just can't stand disorder. I'm compulsive like that. This creates its own set of challenges in my life, but that's a topic for another post.
In any event, I simply prefer things to be tidy; so much so that I'm willing to consistently do the work required to get and keep things that way. And make no mistake—organization is work. Hard work.
...the greater the results you're looking at, the more effortless they can appear.
The problem, I fear, is that because people are only seeing the end results of my compulsion, they assume it comes easily. Perhaps this leads them to believe there's a formula to getting organized, some prescriptive approach that makes this all a simple matter of following instructions. But that's the problem with looking at the end results, it's impossible to see the toil that it took to get there. This creates a paradox—the greater the results you're looking at, the more effortless they can appear. We've all experienced this illusion. Consider how easy Roger Federer makes it look to serve a tennis ball.
I believe anything can be learned; organization is no exception. It is a skill that can be practiced and mastered like any other. But it shares another trait with any other skill you might want to master—the process of learning it is messy and uncomfortable. And in my experience, few people are willing to push through this discomfort, especially with something as unsexy as thoughtfully arranging a spreadsheet or grooming a task database.
This is why I get uncomfortable when people ask me for help getting organized. I have no shortcuts. Are there some transferrable lessons I can share? Of course. But none of them will create any lasting impact without the right mindset.
Getting and staying organized requires commitment and deliberate practice. Only entropy comes naturally. Creating order is itself a messy and uncomfortable process. And so if there is one secret to getting organized, I suppose that is it—get comfortable being uncomfortable. Then, get to work.