Organization is a great way to improve your productivity—up to a point. Once you cross the line, you’re spending too much time on your system and navigating through a maze of folders. In terms of communicating your message, disorganization is confusing, random and sloppy; too much organization is long, overly detailed and boring.
How do you find the right balance?
Whether your life is a cluttered mess with no system or you have a labyrinth of meticulously labeled “homes” for everything you possess, the answer is the same.
One simple rule applies to everything from crafting key messages and tweaking your GTD system to scheduling your day and organizing your pantry.
Organize as much you as you have to, but as little as you need to
By default, items aren’t organized. They don’t need to be. If you have one shirt, you can’t set up a system for separating it by collared shirts, long-sleeve shirts, etc.
Start with one pile, then separate the piles as it makes sense. Not only will this save you time, but it will save you stress. Where are you going to save that new photo, for example, if you have a folder containing pictures of your dog and a folder containing pictures of your son?
In the case of digital files, tags have solved this particular problem to a large extent, but even then they can get out of hand. Besides, we’re looking at organization as a whole, not just digital files. If you come up with a Band-Aid fix, how will you locate it later?
The Gym Bag Principle
Think of your organization structure as a gym bag: having a single resource to contain your gym clothes is helpful, but you don’t need one bag for shirts, one bag for shorts, etc.
Even though it’s not inaccurate to label and divide your clothes like that, it’s not helpful either. Is it really that difficult to rummage through a bag to locate a shirt, shorts, and socks?
What about your keys and cell phone, though? Those might be needed more quickly. If you’re tired and sweaty at your locked car, you don’t want to have to dig around in a large pocket trying to find your keys. In that case, it’s nice to use a side pocket of the bag for those items you might need.
See what I mean by “organize as much as you have to, but as little as you need to”?
Define your purpose for organizing
As you saw in the gym bag principle, the over-organization was obvious. Why? Because you were clear on the purpose.
Gym bags carry your gym clothes. You aren’t trying to use your gym bag to classify everything inside by every quality it has. Color and texture mean nothing to your gym bag. The purpose defines the contents.
When organizing, it’s easy to shift the focus to the act of organizing. It’s a common place to go wrong.
Your system should help you with your goal whether it’s transporting a separate set of clothes to work out in or cataloging tax deductions for your accountant. Know why you’re going to an event before dressing for it. Weddings and funerals have separate dress codes. So do organization systems.