“Keep work and life separate,” they say.
But how the fuck are you supposed to do that? You know from experience that there isn’t enough time in a day to live two separate lives.
I reject the notion that you need to.
After all, didn’t you start your business to pursue your passion? To live your dreams? To have the kind of freedom corporate America craves while simultaneously changing the world?
Yes, it’s work. But it’s your life too.
And, as a creative entrepreneur, your life, business, and passion are excitedly and frighteningly intertwined. Any method or tool that eases the burden of time and increases your productivity while maintaining a work/life balance must be adopted.
Not should. Must.
That's why today is the day you need to get organized. It may not be fun. It may not be easy. But it must be done.
Organization is the tool that gives you power. It gives you freedom. It lets you command others' attention. Organization allows you to forget, reduce decision fatigue, focus, and work a wildly productive day.
Without organization, you'll struggle more than you should. You'll be seen as "unorganized" or worse, "lazy." You'll have to remember everything lest you drop an important ball or let your friends, family, or coworkers down. At some point, you may even hit a breaking point.
I know I did...
Everyone Hits Their Breaking Point
On November 5th, 2009, having spent the past three years working in a startup full time while growing my own app company, I hit my breaking point.
Keeping a separate calendar, notebook, phone, computer, even office was too overwhelming. I was spending too much time managing everything, too much energy hauling multiple notebooks, books, and papers around. I needed to consolidate, get organized, and replace this excessive overhead with meaningful work.
Standing before a whiteboard in San Francisco, 3000 miles from home, I dreaded the thought of printing and carrying dozens of whiteboard images from our meeting on my return flight. But if I didn’t those images would be lost forever; a forgotten digital artifact in my photo-library crammed between pictures of my wife, my first-born, and my dog.
Consolidating things would be a pain, sure, but I no longer had a choice. Developing a system for storing and retrieving anything at a moments notice would take time, but I was tired of wasting time and energy thinking every instance I had something new to save.
So I downloaded Evernote, a relatively new app (at the time) that gave those whiteboard photos a home. A categorized, taggable, searchable, organized home.
In the years to come, I’d make it a point to find a home for every photo, document, bill, receipt, thought, idea, journal entry, etc. in my physical and digital life. In my business too. Nearly ten years and over 10,000 notes later, I’ve become an organization fanatic. My laptop, my desktop, my phone are all orderly. At home, on travel, in a coffee shop, at a store, I can search for and find anything I need almost instantaneously... all using an organization system that drastically improved my life.
I now consider personal and professional organization an ongoing investment; an investment with a huge return.
Organization Gives You Power
If there’s one thing I Hate (capital H intended) more than anything, it’s not being able to find something.
Wallet? If it’s not where I always put it and I have to spend a single second looking for it I’m ticked. Keys? Same thing. Documents? Yep.
My coffee? I get really pissed when I misplace that :).
Do you feel the same way? Your business and your ideas move too quickly to get distracted by searching. When you need info, you need it NOW!
Instead of powerlessly sifting through folders to find a document, putting a simple organizational system in place can bring it to your fingertips in seconds. You don’t waste a moment thinking about where your information might be. You don’t get distracted by the hunt. You find the thing and keep on truckin’.
Organization gives you power.
It gives you the power to find what you need when you need it. The power to recall information you’ve forgotten quickly and without frustration. Plain and simple, organization gives you control over the things and information in your life instead of those things and information having power over you.
Organization Gives You Others’ Attention
When you’re organized, others give you their attention. They want to stay connected with you because they’ve come to rely on you for storing, finding, and retrieving that which they value.
Scientific studies have found an explanation for this in a phenomenon known as the transactive memory system (TMS). You might better recognize this as a “shared memory” between a friend or a family member.
For example, my wife keeps my two sons’ (incredibly complex and exhaustive) baseball schedule organized. She knows where each kid needs to be and by when. She knows what team they are playing, or if it’s just a practice. Yes, I get emailed by each baseball coach with this information too. But because my wife learns it, organizes it, and can recall it the moment I ask, I can archive those emails and forget this information instantly.
The thing is, I have become dependent on her for this information.
According to the study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, TMS deepens as relationships grow, and grows as relationships deepen. In other words, as you build trust with your friend, coworker, or family, your importance to them can increase based on this TMS. Keeping relevant information organized at your fingertips can help build these relationships as acquaintances begin to realize they can come to you for quick answers, quick document retrieval, or other info.
What does this all mean?
Staying organized puts you in a position, like my wife is for me, to have others rely on you in a positive and productive way.
As a side note, when you have a reliable system for storing and retrieving valuables, you no longer have to remember everything. You can just remember that you put what you need in your organizational system and go there to retrieve it. That's TMS in action!
Organization Allows You to Forget
You’re busy with dozens of emails, multiple projects, and daily meetings. Trying to remember it all just isn’t possible. More so, if you don’t keep these pieces of information organized, you’ll eventually forget something important causing setbacks in your essential projects.
Staying organized allows you to forget.
You can confidently forget those things that you can retrieve later. Why bother remembering if you can store it away in a familiar, categorized, and searchable organization system?
It’s the reason I can never remember how many fluid ounces are in a cup. I can just ask Alexa or Siri or Google, and it will tell me. It’s the reason we can't remember phone numbers anymore. You can find it in your smartphone contacts, tap the name, and it dutifully dials them for you.
Yes, you still have to remember where you’ve stored the information. The difference is twofold:
- It’s easier to remember where to retrieve information instead of what that information is, especially if you keep it all in a single system.
- If you can’t find the information you seek because it’s not well organized, you’ve permanently forgotten anyways.
In short, organization helps you remember by letting you forget.
Organization Reduces Decision Fatigue
We’ve all heard of the term, “decision fatigue.” It’s the reason Steve Jobs wore jeans and a black turtleneck every day. Why spend your limited cycles making unimportant decisions? Save that decision making power for important goals later.
While you don’t have to stockpile and wear black turtlenecks daily, you can reduce your decision fatigue with some basic organization.
Instead of deciding what to do with some new document, bill, form, webpage, or other thing you’ll need for later, just put it into an organized system. Pay the one-time-cost of creating a structured way of storing and retrieving info, then use it every time. Without thinking. Without considering. Just do it.
Sketch an idea on a napkin at a restaurant? Snap a picture of it and store it in your system. Have a good whiteboarding brainstorm? Snap a picture of it and store it in your system. Write a good thought, idea, email that you want to save for later? Put it in your system.
Doing this will change your workflow completely, saving valuable energy for bigger decisions later.
Organization reduces decision fatigue.
Now, instead of deciding whether to file away your next great back-of-the-napkin idea in a file cabinet, in the stack of crap on your desk, or in some random file folder on your computer, you don’t have to. It just goes in same place. Every time.
Organization Lets You Focus on What’s Important
When you’re searching for your keys, you’re not focused on your goals. When you are looking for a specific document through an unsorted email inbox, you’re losing valuable time that could otherwise be spent focusing on what’s important.
Organization helps you focus on what’s important.
I know, I know... you can always find what you’re looking for. So can I. But that time adds up.
To find out how much, set a timer the next time to start hunting for something—be it a file or a bill or some object like your sunglasses or keys. Start the timer when you begin your search and stop it when you find what you’re looking for. Multiply that by the number of times you go searching for similar things in a given week.
That’s how much time you’re wasting.
That’s how much your goals have suffered. That’s how much more time you could have spent focusing on what’s important.
Organization Equals Freedom
Regardless of how your passion or business helps others, you live a creative life. It takes creativity to outsmart your competition, to find new customers, to market your product or service. All that creativity, it needs freedom.
Organization gives you freedom.
Whem you’re organized, it doesn’t matter how you create. You can think and make and do and store your ideas on any medium. You are free to develop that next million dollar idea in a format with which you’re comfortable.
Like drawing on paper? Go for it. Like typing first drafts on a typewriter? Do it.
Just be sure to organize it. You’ll know where and how to find it later.
Find Your System, Get Organized, and Reap the Benefits
So this entire article is dedicated to why you should put an organizational system in place. But why haven’t I recommended such a system?
Because. Everyone’s system needs to be different.
Your system will be different than mine, different from your neighbors, and different than your co-workers. It needs to conform to your goals, your way of living and working, and the tools at your disposal.
My system for organizing papers, photos, notes, ideas, thoughts, references, and any other digital documents is Evernote. Everything I think that needs remembering and everything I store that needs retrieving goes in my system. Without consideration. Without a second thought.
Evernote may not be for you, but now you know why organization is important, and you understand why you need to find a system of your own. Once you do, you’ll find just how powerful your system is, how others will come to rely on you, and how much more energy and freedom you’ll have because of it.
About the Author
CO-FOUNDER | TECHNOLOGY, ORGANIZATION, PRODUCTIVITY AND BUSINESS GROWTH FANATIC
Mike Mehlberg helps Creators and Entrepreneurs develop an organization and productivity system aligned with their personal and professional goals to grow their passion into a thriving business with purpose and speed.