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Confessions of a Sometimes-Disorganized Organizer

One of the most common (and understandable) things people assume about me is that, as a professional organizer, I must be an extremely organized person. Surely my house is eternally ready for an unannounced visit by photographers from Real Simple magazine, my To Do list is perfectly up-to-date, and my desk is neat as a pin.

The truth, dear readers, is a bit more nuanced. Yes, I'm generally good about keeping things in order, I live an uncluttered life, and I have systems in place for getting things done when they need to be done. But I'm far from perfect. Below are four confessions of my sometimes-disorganized ways, along with the things I do to get myself back on track when I need to.

I sometimes lose or misplace things.
After meeting with a client recently, I walked out to my car, dug through my bag to find my keys, and looked through my car window to see them sitting placidly on the seat, safely locked inside. I've also recently managed to misplace a parking garage ticket and to completely lose an invitation to a party.

How I get back on track: I have a backup plan, and I aim to learn from my mistakes. In the case of my car key, what saved my hide was the wallet-friendly copy of the key I'd had made at the AAA office, just in case I ever locked myself out. After losing the party invite, I called a friend who was also attending and asked him to send me the RSVP info. And I ultimately found my parking ticket, but the experience of spending 15 frantic minutes looking for it convinced me to be mindful of putting it somewhere memorable as soon as I get it the next time I drive into the garage.

There are piles on my desk. And my dining table.
Do I have a generally functional system that lets me store important papers and things to do before I actually do them? Yes. Does that mean I'm eternally pile-free? No way. There's almost always a pile of something or other on my desk, and sometimes it has mates on my dining table, my printer, my ottoman, the floor...

How I get back on track: Believing as I do that not all piles are bad, I try to cut myself some slack here. Often what winds up on my desk is indeed something I'll need within the next few days, and sometimes it's just easier to keep it under my fingertips than to put it away and take it out again. That said, I make a point of going through all of my piles at least a few times a week and doing a survey of the contents. I act on the things that need action, store the stuff I won't use soon, and put notes on my To Do list as reminders to deal with whatever remains.

How about that To Do list, anyway?
Here's something that won't shock anyone: putting a task on your To Do list doesn't necessarily mean you'll do it. There are many entries on my list that somehow seem to migrate from week to week, patiently waiting for me to check them off and give them some respite. I'm great about making lists of stuff to do, and far less great about un-making them.

How I get back on track: I create new To Do lists a few times a week, and force myself to put the tasks carried over from the previous list right at the top. Rewriting the same tasks over a few times--and seeing them constantly lurk on list after list--is generally enough to kick me into gear. If I still find myself procrastinating on certain tasks, I break them down into smaller parts so I can at least make progress on them, even if I don't finish them altogether.

It took me four days to unpack after my last trip.
I came home from New York early last week and immediately jumped into a busy week of client visits, meetings, errands, and tasks. In the meantime, my suitcase sat accusingly on my bedroom floor, its contents spread about the room. The same sometimes happens with stuff I bring home from the store, or laundry I've been air drying: it hangs out for days on end, impatiently waiting to be put away.

How I get back on track: I harness the power of annoyance. While I can put up with anything for a while--a mess on my bedroom floor, clothes hanging out on the end of my bed, stuff popping up in odd places throughout the house--sooner or later I yearn for neatness and visual calm. When I've had enough of things looking messy and disorganized, it takes very little to convince me to put in the effort to put stuff where it belongs. And it's always worth it.

The truth is out: I have my own disorganized foibles. But I've learned to let them trip me up without throwing me into chaos, and I encourage you to do the same: the next time you lock your keys in your car or feel a sense of dread when you look at your To Do list, turn your focus away from how you've stumbled and toward what you can do to get yourself back on track.

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