A very personal note on the system

All my life I’ve struggled to stay organized in most every way. There are several reasons for this, but for some context, I vividly remember in my young childhood a giant cable spool, laid on its side. On top of that spool was a mountain of clothing that had come out of the wash and was dumped out. As a family, we’d go to the pile of clothes, pick out something to wear, put it on, and start our day. Now extend that chaos out to everyday life, living with smoker who had giant (and full) ashtrays strewn all over, a giant dog we never washed, magazine piles, etc.

I think you get the picture - it was utter and total chaos, and I’ve built a lot of muscular memory around this. On the upside, I operate fairly well in chaos and I find myself oddly comfortable there even though I don’t seek it out.

But as I’ve gotten older I’m keenly aware that I carry around too many ‘open loops’. I feel constantly behind. This translates to a sort of background noise of anxiety over dropping the ball. Then it affects your sleep, which has a whole slew of downstream consequences in and of itself.

But there’s contra-indicators too! My main chore growing up was cleaning the kitchen. It was the only oasis in the maelstrom that was clean and somewhat orderly.

Here lies a duality that I carry, to this day: part of me really wants and needs to be organized, and after manic fits of activity, I’ll tighten up huge parts of my life and reap the rewards of this effort until entropy kicks back in. My struggle is real, and I know that somewhere there’s actually an organized person in there. He’ll peek out from time to time to prove that it’s true. But I’m swimming against a powerful tide.

I’m now in my 50s, with a Master’s degree and a successful career under my belt. Yet here I am, sharing this story. Yes, I’m back at it :slight_smile:

After landing here via another community I’m in I’ve realized that my spells of hyper organization were always doomed to fail, because I had no actual systems to support a new baseline. I just assumed that once organizational inertia took hold, the flywheel would spin.

I’m very early on in the process here, but in the form of feedback and potentially helping a lurker in a similar situation as me, I’ve found the following things to be extremely powerful ideas, at least for me:

  • Organization can be minimal. In fact, it often should be minimal. One of the things I love about this system is that it’s profoundly simple. If it’s not simple, a person like me would absolutely fail with its implementation and maintenance.

  • Being organized shouldn’t be viewed as a holistic, broad brush thing (indeed, for me, right now, this is flatly impossible).

Instead, a single action that you take within a single area or category can be organized. That is, organizational practices are atomic. Looking through this lens, I see evidence of me actually being organized all over the place. This was a revelation, and it’s a direct artifact from reading this material.

  • Don’t beat yourself up because you struggle with this stuff. There are small wins that you actually control all over the place. Look for them and you’ll see them. If they’re not there, do one atomic thing in accordance with this system and you’ll realize that this is literally what being organized looks like and feels like.

I suspect that many or most of the people here are predisposed to being organized and are working from a solid foundation of being organized. But for the rest of us, there’s hope! With something malleable, simple, and minimalist like this system I can, maybe for the first time, see a path to a sustained measure of organization in my life.

And as it turns out, the stakes for me are pretty high as we’re starting to grow our germinating business and there’s simply too much risk with operational clutter, email clutter, files, and so on.

Anyhow, thank you for reading and expect to see some questions from me as I move along the path. Onward!


Just before you said that, it’s what I was thinking. So yes, I think this is so true.

We can present it in our mind as this absolute dichotomy: you are either organised or you are not. And if you’re not, well, you’re bad, and doomed.

Which of course is not the case. Just do what you can, bit by bit.

Thanks for sharing. I hope we can help.

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I can relate.

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I’m glad I’m not alone!

I’m now (mostly) on to the [30-39] portion of the process, setting up my areas and categories. The sticky note brain-dump exercise is a super useful thing…it lays bare a path to how straight forward organizing these things can actually be. Fascinating to see how I’ve managed to complicate things when they need not be so complicated. Sigh.

That said, it also has me asking a bunch of questions about how to marry the system to the rest of my world. Ultimately, I just put all that into the “out of scope” bucket and am moving on (which, in and of itself is being organized!).

I’ve got to play the long game here, one of my challenges is taking on too much, which dooms me before I’ve started. I’ll post progress, in the event it is useful.

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