Here is the first organization lesson I learned in my monthly experiment: it won’t and can’t happen in a day.
I’ve read the hacks and the tips, I’ve seen the boards on Pinterest and I’ve listened to more podcasts and read more books about organizing than most people not named David Allen.
This was all before I started my month-long Organization Experiment.
What all those people don’t like to talk about is the fact that organization takes time, it takes attention and more than likely you will take two steps back before you start seeing some significant changes.
Who wants to hear that though, right?
Years of Research and a Month of Action
In Carl Honore’s The Slow Fix he talks about a conversation he had with his chiropractor Dr. Woo and what he could do to fix his constant back pain. What the doctor told him has stuck with me ever since. He said:
“The easiest way to make money today is not to heal people,” he says. “It is to sell them the promise of instant healing.”
Even a month sounds too fast, but let me make this clear. This month is a deep dive into how to level up my organization game and the lessons I learned.
Most of these lessons are the end results of years of research, reading and searching for the best of the best. I finally decided to take action on all this knowledge.
I hope these lessons can help you.
Will I be an organization ninja after a month? Nope.
Its kinda like the saying about Hold’em Poker: easy to learn but it takes a lifetime to master.
Organization is a Marathon
That is why the second lesson I learned about organization came from Anne Lamott’s amazing book Bird by Bird.
She tells the story of her little brother crying to their Dad because he had a project due the next day that he had not started on. He had to put together a detailed report on birds. As he is sitting there his dad puts his arm around him and tells him to just take it bird by bird.
How great is that advice?
It is what we have to do if we want to get organized in our lives. Maybe it is stealing 15 minutes here to organize a junk drawer. Or it could be 15 minutes before work cleaning up some files on our computer.
If author Anthony Trollope was able to write hundreds of novels, short stories and non-fiction in his lifetime stealing 15 minutes here and there, we can do the same.
Motivation to Action
And you probably know all those things or have a basic idea that organization will take time.
The problem though is how to turn what we know into action.
If you noticed I wrote above that I’ve spent years acquiring this knowledge. So why didn’t I do anything with it then?
I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about this.
I ruled out being lazy because I know how to get stuff done. I wrote this blog post didn’t I? Kidding.
Maybe it was because I’m dumb.
I ruled that out when I realized what separates us from the animals is we know we are going to die one day. I learned that in my philosophy class in college. I can’t be dumb if I took a philosophy class, right? I think deep thoughts…
Was it fear? Did I fear failing? What if I feared succeeding?
Rather than get lost in figuring out why I haven’t acted, I decided to skip that part (for now) and just try something, anything.
My Monthly Experiments was born.
It was when I decided to dedicate 2017 to Monthly Experiments that I realized why I never acted on everything in my head or did act and gave up after a few days/weeks/months.
The Fogg Lifted
It was three things that happened at once and I have Dr. BJ Fogg from Stanford University to thank for it. At least to thank for making me understand what had happened.
I’ll save the suspense: what happened was I had kids.
Let me explain.
3 Keys to Long-Term Behavior Change
Professor Fogg argues that there are only three reason we change and it sticks.
One, we have an epiphany.
Two, we change our environment.
Three, we take baby steps.
Our first son was born in 2013. My epiphany then was this little guy is going to grow up and so much of what he does and becomes is going to be because of me. I know I won’t determine everything about his work ethic, personality, etc., but I know I will be his first role model, along with his Mom.
I thought about that and realized if I tell him he should pursue his passion or use failure as feedback and have grit and determination in everything he does, he will quickly determine if I live those values.
I had to mirror the values I want him to grow into.
Our second son was born in 2015. Suddenly our environment changed yet again with two mouths to feed, two boys to raise and another set of eyes watching us for cues on what was important and what mattered in life.
Finally, I had to take a hard look at my life and all the bad (and good) habits I had built up over 40+ years.
What I realized was I knew where I was strong, but I wanted to get stronger in specific areas that I want my boys to mimic.
I know raising them is a combination of thousands of decisions and years of work. I also know if I was going to change some of my bad habits I had to start small while they are still young and a banana and a cup of milk keeps them happy.
So the Monthly Experiments is my way of getting better, finding out how good I can be and building my life as a model for my boys when they are old enough to think this old dude not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk.
In the end I feel like I’m at the beginning of a life-long race and each day if I make the right decisions I’ll get closer to that finish line.
I don’t want to ever doubt that I could have done more.
Stephen Cope writes about doubt in his amazing The Great Work of Your Life:
I know people who have been stuck in doubt their entire lifetime. Each of these unfortunate individuals—some of them my very own friends and family—came at some point to a crossroads. They came to this crossroads and found themselves rooted there, with one foot firmly planted on each side of the intersection. Alas, they never moved off the dime. They procrastinated. Dithered. Finally, they put a folding chair smack in the center of that crossroads and lived there for the rest of their lives. After a while, they forgot entirely that there even was a crossroads—forgot that there was a choice.
I feel like I got pushed off that crossroads after the birth of my sons and I’ve chosen a path and getting organized is the path I’m on this month.
I will be on different paths in the future, but now I know where they are going and what is waiting for me when I get there.
Last month it was procrastination. This month it is organization. Next month it will be productivity.
I know it is impossible to become an expert at any of these things in a month. But who says I have to stop trying at the end of the month.
Isaac Asimov said, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”
I’ve spent a lifetime gathering knowledge, now it is time for some wisdom.
I have to do it for my boys and I have to do it just so I know at the end I finally put it all together and it meant something.