Happiness - 10 Ways to Be Happy by Getting Organized
Everyone wants to be organized, right? But what does that mean? This article will help you define organization and how it can lead to happiness!
Merriam-Webster's definition of "organized" seems to be a bit off because their two definitions deal with unions and, "organized", as in "organized crime." Their best definition falls under the verb organize; to form into a coherent unity or functioning whole. However, I'm going to define "organized" as the best way I know how, based on my everyday experience. I'd say that to be organized means to have everything in a state that makes carrying out tasks most efficient. Two components of this would be effectively using time, and easily knowing the position of everything, where all those things exist in a location where they cause the people most frequently in that place the least inconvenience. To give a gratuitous example elucidating the rationale for the second part, even if you knew where everything was, you wouldn't want the only pen in the house stuck in some obscure box in the attic or a five-foot stack of twenty-year-old tax papers in the middle of the floor; you would probably be more organized if the two were reversed (well, the pen on the table instead of the floor).
Whatever definition of "organized" you use, there are many good reasons to be organized. Dr. Joan Borysenco states that keeping organized helps a person stay grounded emotionally. The two components of organization I offered, dealing with time and space, are certainly co-dependent. People who know where their keys are could potentially save hours a year compared to those who are constantly key-hunting. This allows them to use their time more effectively. People who use their time most efficiently also have extra time to spend organizing their possessions. Organization ultimately leads to stress relief and more happiness by promoting a healthier life and environment. Those who organize their time well feel less rush and achieve a greater sense of control. Those who organize their items eliminate that constant visual reminder that they need to organize their stuff and that there are leftover chores. The clean, open space is relaxing and refreshing, like green pastures or sunny parks. Now that we have a firm foundation for desiring organization, what are some ways to get organized?
1. Make connections. This is a mental aspect of organization because the brain is where it starts: if you don't have an idea of what it means to be organized in your mind, it's not going to happen. And organization starts in your brain by making connections. It is said that a genius is a person who, when an average person makes one connection, and a smart person makes two or three, notices ten connections. While most people aren't geniuses, everyone can develop their ability to make connections by applying themselves. An example demonstrating that these connections are absolutely essential is: Say I were to ask you to memorize the position of 100 different objects scattered in a totally random fashion around the room and then told you to memorize the position of every single object until you were comfortable enough to draw the room from memory. How long would that take? Most likely, some time. Now, say I gave you the opportunity to move around those 100 objects, and you made connections between them, such as "these are all kitchen items so they go together" and "these are all sports equipment so they go together, " or even if they were totally unfamiliar objects, you could start connecting them with "these are all blue" and "those are large." The task of memorizing the position of the items becomes infinitely easier due to merely a few connections you made. The reason is that the right side of the human brain is stimulated by what is called gestalt perception, meaning that it learns and develops by looking at the whole picture. When you make connections, instead of looking at numerous individual parts, your brain is able to see the whole picture much more clearly, resulting in faster and better learning. Additionally, some scientists link the process of connection with the structure of the brain's component neurons; the brain works due to connections that these neuron cells make with each other.
2. Make divisions. Related to the concept of connecting is dividing. Specifically, dividing your possessions in an organized way involves hierarchy. It is often helpful to start (both mentally and in practice) at smaller hierarchical levels and move to larger ones. If you have many disorganized papers, you can organize them from individual pieces to rooms. For example, if you volunteered for an organization, you might have papers related to several projects you undertook. If you had only several sheets for each project, you might alphabetize them. Then you might place them in a folder with the current year and place them alongside other folders with years listed on them for your volunteer work. Then you might have a sub-section of the organizer where you keep the folders devoted to your volunteer work, and other sub-sections on that level to other activities that engage you in your spare time. On other levels (other drawers, perhaps) in that organizer, you would have papers related to other facets of your life. Then, in another organizer in another place in the room, you might have the papers related to your children. Lastly, you would have other items, such as toys or movies, in different rooms. The reason why these divisions help in organization is because they keep different types of objects distinct in your mind. Dr. Kenneth Higbee in his book, Your Memory, explains that psychological research has shown that when people can work better on certain tasks if they confine that task to a single room, and they can more easily remember what they learned there previously when they are physically present in the original location. The same concept can be applied to divisions because dividing your belongings into select locations that are distinct from one another and separating them such that they become more different as the distances between them becomes larger reinforces their separation in your brain and makes their position easier to recall.
3. Keep things in their original position. So you've got everything where you want it to be, and you've spent hours of painstaking labor putting everything away? The next step is to keep it there. This requires mental effort and habit formation. Most people finish something and leave it there, forgetting about it for some time until they come back later for some completely unrelated reason and push that item to the side to put another item where it was initially. That would be a formula for organizational disaster. Instead, as soon as you finish using something, put it back where you got it from. It keeps everything relatively constant over long periods of time, which means that everything is in a position long enough for you to get used to it and memorize its location - the very definition of organization. You may go through much pain to instill this concept in your children, who are notorious for leaving toys spread all over the place and leaving for other toys, but once they get it, life will be so much easier. And don't forget to set the example.
4. Designate time each year to re-organize. You may be wondering: Wait, you just told me to keep things in their original position, and now you want me to re-sort everything? Well, the re-sorting happens only a couple of times a year; if you don't want to put everything back where you got it from, you'll be spending an inordinate amount of time organizing your belongings every week or so. The purpose of re-organizing everything is to keep everything up to date, so to speak. You'll undoubtedly acquire new possessions, and after a period of time, those new gadgets start to pile up - that's when you'll figure out the best places to organize them, or preferably before then. Additionally, you change. Your ideas of organizing do, too. While it might have made sense to have all your cups on one shelf in the cupboard, that no longer makes sense the next year when you've read some books on design and realize that the patterns on some cups mean that they'll look nicer next to other dishware. Doing this a couple of times a year breaks the chore into more manageable chunks instead of spending an entire week every couple of years re-organizing the entire place.
5. Watch out for possible improvements. It's likely that there's a way to make some part of your life easier. Though it's common to become attached to your habits, a little change here and there can make life all the more easy. Would you be able to remedy the annoyance of picking up the clothes your child tosses all over the place by placing a laundry basket in the bathroom instead of that dark corner in his closet? Would you more easily keep track of your work if you put the most important papers in one main folder instead of spreading them out among different folders? Would you attend to your yard/gardening-work with greater alacrity or just get it done sooner if you attached the outdoor-shed-key to all your others instead of keeping them in some far-away drawer? Would you reduce the amount of pens getting lost and rolling across tables if you placed one pen-basket in each room? etc.
6. Get rid of stuff. This should be the most obvious, because disorganization results from things being disorganized: if you had no things, you wouldn't have anything to be disorganized. The problem is that this tip may be the most difficult to put into practice because people become so attached to the stuff they own. A little bit of forbearance is always necessary, but perhaps there are a few strategies to make throwing stuff away a bit easier. One strategy is to take advantage of those times when you're feeling like you're drowning in clutter; you're more likely to throw a few extraneous objects away than when you feel like everything is fine. It is especially essential to pick a couple of times a year when you go through your stuff to see those accumulated objects that don't mean anything to you. Otherwise, if you forget about it and come back to it years later, you may believe that you have memories attached to that item when in actuality, you have fifteen other items from that time period which would already bring up even stronger memories. One area of application for this concept would be schoolwork. Kids use hundreds if not thousands of pieces of paper each year. If you save all their work so that they (or you) can remember how nice kindergarten was ten years from now, you'll soon have towers of paper collapsing on you. Instead, set a number, say five, and give your child the option of choosing those five projects/tests/homework assignments that mean most to her from the past school year. Throw away those paper that obviously mean nothing (and nobody will ever go back to revisit) and keep the rest for one year. During the next year, your child may find that some of the material from the previous year is constantly re-emerging, so she needs the work from the previous year for review. In that case, at the end of the year, she would pick several more papers from the year before that she believes are essential for review and keep them before throwing the rest way. This would probably be applicable to some people's papers in the workplace as well. One other strategy would be to lay similar possessions side by side. When you see that you have something that is almost the same as something else you own, you are more likely to realize the redundancy and toss the extra item.
7. Organize your computer. Ok, your physical possessions are organized, but what about the stuff in the place where you spend the other 50% of your time? You don't want to be breathing in the sweet aroma of a clutter free room while you're staring at a desktop with 100 icons and folders and you can't figure out where you saved your last document. This is where folders come in handy. Using your skills of organization through connection and division, make connections between different files on your computer and divide different ones into different folders. Starting with the largest division of work and home, you can move into more specific categories, such as shopping, kids, travel, books, home projects, etc. for home, and friends, school, extracurricular, medical, for example, for kids, and continuing down. For each division, you can create a folder. At the highest levels, all you have are folders, but once you reach the lowest levels, you start to have files, including photos, word documents, spreadsheets, and videos. You've probably figured out some system similar to what was just mentioned, but as always, it's the maintenance that is the hard work. The same solution exists for email. Division of internet mail into different folders makes life much easier, instead of spending ten minutes searching through hundreds of emails in an ever-expanding inbox for that single important email message you missed the first time through. With email, though, you have more tools to help you. You can use the features of your email provider to block spam, and even immediately delete certain emails from specific senders you don't want. Here, organization really saves you time because you don't have to read through as many emails. If you want to go even further with saving time on the computer, take a class on using the computer (or, you can read a few books if you have sufficient initiative and motivation). I can attest to the benefit of taking a class because even though I haven't become a computer expert or super tech-savvy person, the class I took increased my ease with computer by serving the dual function of both helping me to understand how a computer works, as well as how to maximally use tools like Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. I'm saving time because I know exactly what features of Microsoft to use when faced with common problems.
8. Read faster. Though your computer will delete spam emails and you can ignore some trivial ones, there are others you must read, and if you're like many, that's a lot of email. Add in the reports, research, news, your kids' school papers, financial and medical information, and you're in over your head. Try doing some research on speed reading. The gains will be well worth the effort. Some people dismiss speed reading as skimming. The ironic thing is that skimming (spending a couple of seconds a page to get a general sense of the main point) is an important skill that the detractors of speed reading themselves often lack. However, speed reading is much more than skimming; it actually is true reading and can be broken up into two different parts: seeing larger chunks of words (i.e. see an entire line instead of just one or two words), which is half the battle and will raise your speed instantly, and then being able to understanding those words you see at a faster rate. Dedication and practice are fundamental to the development of this skill, but anyone can learn. I would personally recommend Peter Kump's 6-week program in his book, Breakthrough Rapid Reading, although several others offer similar preparation. The time you will save from reading faster is invaluable.
9. Memorize tasks. You won't save time checking a paper twenty times a day to check off tasks like pick up your child that happen almost every day, and it's incredibly bad organization. Sure, have them on a piece of paper that you update from time to time and check from time to time, but most of it should be automatic. At the bottom of that piece of paper, include those activities that happen once a week. It is often helpful to plan to carry out the majority of those once-a-week activities, especially if they are household chores, on the day of the week and during the time of day that are the least busy. For grinding these routine tasks into memory, I would recommend one of Tony Buzan's books on mind mapping. This integrates the concept of connections because the mind map is essentially a diagram that starts at the center, perhaps with the keyword "daily tasks", and radiates outward to more specific words that are connected to the previous word. The ends of the map would contain the specific instructions for particular jobs. The mind map makes putting the routine tasks to mind simpler by taking advantage of the brain's natural ability to immediately recognize related ideas, and when those related ideas are not only conceived in your mind, but also put to paper in a structure with designs and colors that make sense to you, the tasks are imprinted in your brain. For other jobs that come up every now and then at different times, people have different methods for organization. Some people have a program on their computer, some people use old-fashioned organizers, and some people write them on a whiteboard at home or in the office. While I have a calendar on which to write the upcoming events, I prefer to write many of them on scraps of paper. This allows me to note duties that would be too trivial to write on my calendar while saving me the trouble of turning on the computer or worrying about my whiteboard being erased. Then I hang that piece of paper on the wall or refrigerator. In the morning, I memorize the relevant tasks for that day. This is helpful because it makes the day go a lot more smoothly: I'm not out of luck if I forget the piece of paper when going out, and I save time that I would spend searching for that piece of paper between tasks. I would recommend one of Harry Lorayne's memory books for this purpose. The mnemonic devices he explains are especially suited for list forms because they involve forming mental images of each element and connecting one to another by including each pair in a picture or scene. Keep in mind that many of Buzan's and Lorayne's materials are simply their old ideas repackaged; reading one will probably suffice for understanding their main points and being able to put them to practice.
10. Direct your actions. Often, people will sit down (or stand up) to complete a chore, and jump right into it. Soon, they realize that they have wasted time on some inconsequential assignment that could be done much later with no consequences, while another task they need to finish by the next day remains untouched, leading to stress and discomfort. When you have a block of free time with which to knock off several requirements, think for a minute about the most important job to do. Write down the "must do," "should be able to do," "hoping to do," and "if I'm really efficient I'll get to it" categories, and then start with the most important task. This will eliminate the problem of the above scenario. Again, easier said than done. An organized space if you're working in a room comes in helpful because you have fewer distractions. The key ingredient is training yourself to ignore distraction so that you actually finish the "must do" task before moving on to the others.
Thus, it is clear that staying organized takes time and effort. The goal is worth the effort, though. Those who know how to be organized also know how to live a calm life, because being organized saves time, reduces stress, and ultimately results in a happier day.
By the way, as you are calmly getting your life organized, you can also safely and quickly clean up and remove duplicate contacts from your address book so you can be more productive throughout your day. I suggest you check out the online cleanup tool Scrubly.
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