Organization is good for your brain
By Jenna Bradford | March 2018
I can’t be the only one who gets a little too excited by borderline overly-organized spaces. Seriously, looking at these drawers of fabric and jar of cookies gives me so much mental satisfaction. And not going to lie, those leaves were the background image on my phone for months. I may not have the patience to organize an entire grocery aisle, but I am definitely pro-organization in almost every aspect of my life. It’s a serious reason I could never have glass kitchen cabinets, for fear of moving one out of place for the entire world to see.
My mom could tell you I was not always like this. My room was pretty often (always) a mess and my thoughts were even more scattered. My computer files literally had NO organization. I had music next to my resume, next to my photos, and something named 4XDT7J.jpg. Since stumbling into adulthood, I’ve become very routine in my day-to-day and a lot my daily tasks involve organization – both at work and at home. I’ve found that organizing even just one thing or one file folder a day makes me feel accomplished and makes me want to help other’s get organized – both for their sake and my mental sanity trying to sift through their files. Some people are natural organizers with color-coded closets, while some need a little guidance.
Organization and cleanliness is good for you and science can prove it. But how can you train your brain to WANT to keep things organized?
1. Have a daily routine. All the organized people you know did not organize their whole life in a day. They set a routine and probably struggled to follow it at first. But now with routine, they make sure everything falls into place for them, literally. The thought of organizing even just one room in a day, can be daunting, especially if looked anything like my childhood room, where you would need to clean for an hour before you reached the carpet. But if you dedicate 30 minutes to organizing part of that room every day, it seems much more achievable. My morning is extremely routine, even on weekends, and even for my dogs. Early morning is my most creative time, so I spend the morning in my creative zone creating away until the zone fades. Then coffee, organize my desk, re-fill the coffee cup, and write my daily to-do list and start knocking stuff out. As for my dogs, they will let me know when it is 7 PM, because that is always their dinner time. Create a routine, one day at a time, with everything you want – add in work time, play time, eating time, work out time, pet your dog time, and even “an hour to do nothing.” Your mind will thank you.
2. Find the tools you need to get the job done. This could be a simple excel sheet that you keep updated, a filing cabinet, a simple to do checklist, or a full Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform that is updated by multiple people in the company. The right solution could also be that you already have the tools but need a better understanding of their capabilities. I think most people now generally know how to use Microsoft Excel – I consider myself an extremely knowledgeable user of this program. I used to work with Engineers who, in 5 minutes, would put my knowledge to serious shame with their mile-long formulas, data and links, and honestly things I couldn’t tell you what they were. Those tools were not only vital to these Engineers, but easy for them to figure out. That particular knowledge of Excel wouldn’t make a lick of difference to me. Find tools that are relevant to what you’re trying to do and that are easy to use for everyone who needs to use it.
3. Get rid of clutter. Is that obvious? Maybe. It of course means you should put those 3 coffee cups that have been on your desk for weeks in the dishwasher. That pile of paper that just sits there because you might need it one day can be put in a drawer, out of sight, for when you need it. Anything I’m currently working on is in one bin on my desk. As soon as a I complete a project, any papers associated with it are removed from my desk and either get recycled or filed away. Keeping things clean and organized is proven to be really good for you. “In 2011, researchers at Princeton University found that clutter can actually make it more difficult to focus on a particular task. Specifically, they found that the visual cortex can be overwhelmed by task-irrelevant objects, making it harder to allocate attention and complete tasks efficiently.” Additionally, people who are more organized are generally both physically and mentally healthier. Spending the time and effort to clean and organize your physical and mental space is well worth it.
The less visual stimulus around you makes it easier to focus and complete tasks efficiently.
4. Prioritize. First, know all of your priorities. Second, prioritize them further by giving them due importance. This goes with number 1. My morning always consists of knowing both what I have to get done today and also for the week. It’s all written on a list and as items are completed, they get crossed off, which is so satisfying. Prioritizing tasks can help to organize and line up all of your mental clutter.
5. Don’t trap yourself in the routine. Do not think of your routine as your prison where you only have X amount of time to complete something or you can’t work on Project B until you finish Project A. For me, a big chunk of work tasks consists of little one-off projects that are either “no rush” or “need this in an hour”. Allow yourself the flexibility, when needed to break the routine, or re-organize the priority list. A routine is not meant to be set rules, but rather highly adaptable guidelines to help your mental well-being.
6. Work smarter, not harder. Bill Gates is noted for saying “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” I am not saying be lazy. However, finding a simpler, smarter, more efficient way to work often comes from having an organized mindset that allows you to see through the mental clutter and clearly understand what you need and how to do it. Constantly being overloaded by work is really damaging for our mental sanity, and this includes overloaded by disorganization and clutter. Thinking smarter saves time and stress, and increases productivity, leading to increased motivation and happiness.
7. Organize the organization. It helps to be clean and organized – we’ve established this. But organization means different things to different people. To me, organized means that all the blankets, sheets, and towels get their own shelf in the hall closet. To my husband, as long as they are in the same closet anywhere in the house, it’s a success. I believe that having organized folders is only step 1. If you have a folder of photos and the folder is named “Project Limbo”, and none of the photos are named, you are not done organizing. IMG_0534.jpg does not tell me anything. It could have been accidentally copied into that folder and no one would know. When organizing files, having a standard naming convention, folder structure, or standard template files makes it much easier to find what you need. It also helps everyone involved stay in the same closet, and hopefully on their appropriate shelf.
Organizing, prioritizing, and cleaning our space helps us feel better about ourselves, keeps us productive and focused, and even mentally happier. So start giving yourself just 30 minutes a day to develop your routine and organize your physical and mental space.