Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ugly Organizational Systems

by Jeff Copper, PCC, PCAC, MBA

Look up the word organized and you'll find definitions that include "having formal structure," "systematized," "formed into structure," "planned," or "controlled." The word conjures up visions of stores, warehouses, storage facilities, filing cabinets, and bookshelves with things in rows, stacks, columns, all with tags, labels, identifiers, or color-coded by categories or associations with something. This picture implies everything is in its place. It's easy to access and there is ample space.

This image of perfection is really quite pleasing to the eye. In other words, it's pretty. I’ll leave it to the researchers to prove whether I’m right or wrong, but my experience as an attention coach is that many people associate “pretty” with being organized. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with an aesthetically pleasing space with everything in its place.

I would argue that it really isn't organized if it doesn't pass the litmus test, which is: Can you find what you need when you need it? Even better, can you find what you need when you need it and put your hands on it quickly? If that pretty space doesn't pass the litmus test, then it isn't organized.
What I have learned through experience is that some of the best organizational systems are just plain ugly. The workbench in my garage is a perfect example. To the untrained eye, it looks like chaos and is quite ugly, but I can assure you it passes the litmus test. When I need something, I can walk up to the bench and find it in an instant. Granted, anyone else would be lost trying to find something as simple as a hammer there, but understand, it’s my garage.

I suspect it puzzles you how I can find what I’m looking for. What's my system? It can't just be chaos. Granted, it looks like one big mess, and while I can't necessarily articulate it or I’m not consciously aware of the system, it just works. I suspect that the system is built around how my brain thinks and is reinforced by routine and habit. My wife regularly suggests that I organize it, make it pretty. I steadfastly resist. If it were organized, I wouldn't be able to find anything.

I’m not here to say you have to do it any specific way. The point is… if ugly works, don't get pressured into turning your space into nonfunctional pretty. The alternative is to decorate ugly to make it pretty or make it look like it's supposed to be that way.

Repetitive, boring, routine things don't capture the attention of those with ADHD. The many steps required to process dull tasks (like putting things away neatly in pretty places) exponentially increase friction and the likelihood the tasks won't be executed. I’m not suggesting you let your garage run amok, but I am suggesting this: If your organizational system is ugly, it doesn't mean it doesn't work. Try decorating and formalizing it—or own it as your own system that works flawlessly. If you do, you might be surprised at how much better you feel if you rid yourself of the guilt, shame, and judgment caused by obsessing over creating a pretty system—only to find that you can't find a thing.

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Jeff Copper, PCC, PCAC, MBA, specializes in coaching adult individuals and entrepreneurs who have been diagnosed with ADHD later in life. He is a speaker, an attention expert, and host of Attention Talk Radio and Attention Talk Video. Learn more about Jeff at www.digcoaching.com.