Do you consider yourself an organized person? Do you thrive on planners and post-it notes? Is your workspace immaculately tidy? If so, that’s awesome!
External organization and orderliness not only make life easier, but have positive and de-stressing effects on the mind. Proactive organization can be an invaluable benefit to our mental health and wellbeing.
However, may I suggest the possibility that these good intentions can sometimes produce negative results? That efforts to organize and tidy our lives can miss the mark of what’s functional and reasonable?
Well, they can, as I learned the hard way one semester of college. Long story short, I used several organizational tools like planners, strict schedules, and to-do lists, and I over-structured my life. I mentally choked myself with micromanagement, which led to anxiety and exhaustion. Instead of helping me function, these tools lead to dysfunction.
Planners plan, except when they don’t.
When you think about it, organization and productivity tools serve as extensions of the brain because they store and manage thoughts until you need them. You record a plan and then you can refer back to what you already figured out.
You write a shopping list so that you don’t have to remember every item. You schedule your day ahead of time, and then follow your own instructions. It’s pretty neat to have tools that literally help you think!
But if given too much weight, these tools can get in the way of our thinking. They can control our decision-making, instead of our decision-making controlling their influence.
They can also encourage us to over-think or over-plan. They can inhibit flexibility, which life sometimes requires.
Finding a personal balance.
To use organization to your advantage, you need to find the tools and/or structures that work for your personal thinking tendencies. You need to recognize how your mind prefers to function, and work with it instead of against it.
Here are 3 ways to get an idea of how you like to think, and what tools might work for you.
1. Trust your instincts.
If the idea of a keeping meticulously detailed agenda makes you groan, avoid them! You want a tool that will fit fairly effortlessly into your life.
During my ill-structured semester, I made task lists for everything—every class, every project, every activity. The thing was, I didn’t need them, I could remember enough on my own to go without.
Making the extra lists was just extra work, and then I felt like I had even more to do! I’ve since settled with a written calendar, in which I scribble a few daily tasks. Remember, the goal is to help you think, not give you more thinking to do.
2. Look for which style of organization you lean towards.
Do you tend to under-organize or over-organize? Consider if undue stress is resulting from leaning too far one way, and how you could adjust. While we don’t want to fight our own minds, we do want to help ourselves where we’re lacking.
If a cluttered office causes stresses, evidently your brain doesn’t like the clutter, and you might benefit from tidying up. If you find yourself flabbergasted when traffic interrupts your day, you might benefit from disconnecting from your schedule.
Or you may have the desire to have everything go exactly right and embrace a sense of flexibility. The ability to manage what we control and adapt to what we can’t control are both important to mental wellness.
3. Identify successful treks.
Consider a time in your life when you’ve been in a healthy, productive groove. You’re reaching your goals, you’re physically healthy, you’re mentally peaceful.
On a day-to-day level, how did you structure your time and tasks? What did you use to arrange, plan, and record the happenings of life? Maybe you discussed each week’s events with your husband on Sundays, and you’re both good to go. Maybe you would jot down a few goals each week, and kept them in mind while just going with the flow.
It will look different for everybody. The point is, you weren’t aimlessly floating along nor militaristically marching through life.
Remember that the ultimate goals of organization are function and ease! If they are missing from an area of life, consider if a tool will help you achieve them. If you’re using an organizational method and not seeing the results you want, it’s probably time to try something different.
Look for tools that will assist your thinking, without requiring extra mental stamina. By identifying our mental strengths and weaknesses, we can find healthy, functional systems of organization, reducing stress and increasing wellness.