If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me whether, because I'm a Professional Organizer, my home and my workspace are always perfectly neat and I'm always in control of my To Do list, I'd be a rich woman indeed. I understand where the question comes from: we have a sense that the professionals in our lives walk the talk in terms of the advice they give to others: we want our doctors to be healthy, our personal trainers to exercise regularly, and our CPAs to get their own tax returns in on time. It's entirely reasonable to want your organizer to be organized.
The truth is that while my home is never really a disaster, it's also never really perfect (unless I'm on vacation and thus am not around to make messes), and nor are my calendar and task list. As I say repeatedly, being organized doesn't mean being perfect or living and working in the equivalent of a magazine photo spread. One thing is does mean, however, is that even if things get chaotic, it's fairly easy to restore some semblance of equilibrium.
I read an article on GTD Times recently on this very subject. The piece, by Meghan Wilker, is called "The Freedom to Make a Big, Fat Mess" (see Related Links below); in it, the author discusses how having certain organizing systems and habits in place allows her family to bounce back relatively quickly when the insanity of everyday life hits. Wilker and her husband both work from home, and they're the parents of a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old, so they know from chaos. But because they're relatively organized, it doesn't take over their lives.
This is one of the greatest benefits of organization: it prevents you from being totally overwhelmed when life gets crazy. Last week, for example, was such a busy one for me that when I got home at the end of each day, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was deal with the piles of stuff that had accumulated on my desk and dining table during the previous days. So I didn't, opting instead to watch "Mad Men" on DVD and go out to dinner with friends.
But when I finally had a bit of downtime, it was pretty easy for me to tackle those piles, return things to where they belonged, and recover from the chaos of the week. Being organized meant that it took me about an hour to regain control.
Acknowledging Real Life
Another thing I never tire of telling my clients and other people who ask me about getting organized is that for most of us, having a perfectly neat and clean home or office every single day is a somewhat-to-wildly unrealistic goal. Who has the time? Who has the inclination? Who really has nothing else to do but make sure that absolutely every last thing is always perfectly in place?
My kind of organization stems from acknowledging that we don't live or work in the pages of a magazine, and that most of us don't have full-time staff dedicated to keeping order in our homes and offices. This means that messes will happen, chaos will creep in (or bust down the door), and there will be moments when we feel out of control.
But being organized means that none of that has to last for long. When you've reached a level of organization that's right for you, you'll be able to regain a comfortable equilibrium with a much smaller amount of time and effort than you'd have to invest if you were starting from square one.
So here's to the freedom to make messes (check--I've definitely done that over the past week), get tasks done late (yup! there were plenty of things I finished much later than I intended to), and wallow in chaos for a while--and here's to being organized enough to overcome all of that and move on.