Well, I realized in the last month that our remote working situation is not going away anytime soon.  Yes, we still are seeing people in person, but we are doing so much work via Zoom that I decided I needed to maximize my workspace.  Probably similar to you, I spend so much time in front of a camera!  For those of you I meet with virtually you will notice a drastic difference in my office.  I can’t tell you what redecorating and reorganizing my office for 2021 has done for my headspace.  Prior to this I still had some hard copy files, tolerated clutter, and just kind of “made do” with inefficiencies in my workspace.  I was very motivated to change knowing a little inconvenience in the short term would pay off in the long run. This is typical human behavior; people don’t make changes unless they feel that the pain of staying the same has become greater than the pain of changing.  After a week of revamping my office, this Monday morning when I walked into a brand-new, amazing space, I can honestly say that I immediately felt more efficient and effective – the little dopamine receptors in my brain were like a pinball machine – happy and satisfied!

So why do most of us let our lives get in such disarray?  There are probably as many answers as there are people, but for me – I love setting up organizational systems…it is maintaining them that I find difficult.  Throughout the day I get pulled in so many different directions that I will neglect to electronically file something or think that I will remember to put something in my calendar.  So the “shortcuts” I might believe I am able to take are all “good and well” if it only impacts me, but it doesn’t just impact me, does it?  It negatively affects all of the stakeholders in my company – partners, support team, clients, vendors, and family.

Here are some facts that make the case for why each of us should spend time keeping ourselves as disciplined and organized as possible:

  • Americans waste nine million hours per day searching for misplaced items, according to the American Demographics Society.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that the average U.S. executive wastes six weeks per year searching for missing information in messy desks and files.
  • Cleaning professionals say that getting rid of excess clutter would eliminate 40 percent of the housework in an average home.
  • Crisis purchases related to disorganization could cost as much as 15 to 20 percent of your annual budget— buying duplicates of misplaced or broken items, and last minute shopping at premium prices.

Many of our clients are constantly improving processes and performance. They might work on the “big stuff”, but not be intentional on the small habits and hacks. I thought it might be helpful to understand the brain science and a few relevant tips that might be relevant and helpful as you kick off the new year.

Keeping Area 47 In the Brain “Happy”

In his new book The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin — a McGill University professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience — explores how having a basic understanding of the way the brain works can help us think about organizing our homes and businesses.  He and his colleagues have been studying a little sliver of brain tissue for 20 years – they call it Area 47.

If you put your fingertips on your temples, just above the outside part of your eyebrows, Area 47 is in there. It’s about the size of an almond on each side. Area 47 contains prediction circuits that are scanning and monitoring the environment and trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. What they have found is that keeping Area 47 happy is tricky. If everything in the environment is utterly predictable, most people become bored. If it’s utterly unpredictable, most people become frustrated. It stands to reason that when we feel we are working in a chaotic, disorganized environment, our Area 47 part of the brain will begin to feel a loss of predictability and, therefore, a downturn in well-being.  If you have ever been in that place where you feel disorganized and unprepared, especially under time constraints, you know that it is not a good place to be.  Nor do you ever want to go there again.

But, don’t worry — your favorite psychological MacGyver (wink, wink) has answers to this ongoing dilemma (some that I currently use successfully and some that I am committing publicly to start using).  I never want to bore you with cookie-cutter solutions…for staying organized the list might consist of “get up earlier” or “only check your email twice a day”.  Here at Steople, we try to color outside the lines a bit – hopefully, at least one of these hacks will resonate with you.

Organizational Hacks (Based in Science) That Will Make You More Effective and Efficient

1.  Establish You MIT.
As soon as you sit down at your desk spend a few minutes thinking about what your Most Important Task (MIT) is for the day.  It’s very simple: your MIT is the task you most want or need to get done today. In my case, I’ve tweaked it a bit so that I usually have three MITs — the three things I must accomplish today. Do I get a lot more done than three things? Of course. But the idea is that no matter what else I do today, these are the things I want to be sure of doing. So, the MIT is the first thing I do each day, in the morning, right after I have a cup of coffee to get my day started.

2. Color Code Your Schedule.
Your calendar represents how you use your most valuable asset – your time. It represents your priorities, and if used correctly, it is the best tool to help you achieve your goals. I use this system, and, at a glance, I can tell how much time I am spending in direct client services, business development, internal meetings, and project time.  Additionally, by utilizing this across my team I can also look at people on my team and understand what they are focusing on daily.  The most important thing here is to keep it simple, consistent, and make sure it makes sense for you.

3.  Use Down Time for Education. 
We all wish we had more time in our schedule to read and learn new relevant information, but few of us have that kind of time.  If you’re commuting 30 minutes each way every day at the end of a year, you’ve spent 6 weeks of 8-hour days in your car. If you don’t commute and are working from home either utilize your workout time, your wait time (hairdresser, doctor, curbside pickup) for that educational pick me up.  Instead of scrolling through Instagram or listening to music, try using some of that time to listen to great books on audio, excellent podcasts, and valuable TED Talks. Research shows the fastest way to double your income is to triple your rate of learning.

4.  Purge Anything in Your Life That is No Longer Beautiful, Relevant, or Useful.
How often do we hang onto things that served us well at one point in our lives but are no longer relevant or useful?  Or how about that out-of-date item that we paid too much for and can’t quite part with?  While our attachment to these items makes sense on a certain cognitive level, by continuing to carry them around we limit our ability to invite new experiences, opportunities, and growth. The best way to get moving is to free up your space and time of the things that no longer serve you well.  Remember, mess creates stress.  In fact, Tennis icon Andre Agassi used to say he wouldn’t let anyone touch his tennis bag because if it got disorganized, he’d get distracted.

5.  Brain Dump at the End of Every Day.
At the end of your workday, stop and write down all the clutter housed in your brain…the scientific basis for this ritual is real. The conscious mind can only pay attention to about four things at once. If you’ve got these nagging voices in your head telling you to remember to pick up almond milk on the way home and email so-and-so, they’re competing in your brain for neural resources with the stuff you’re actually trying to do at that moment, like getting a project budget completed or a blog written.  Dump it and then transfer it to your to-do list.

The key to behavior change is making one small tweak at a time and it has to be one that you really believe in and are committed to.  Even better, connect that change to something you are already doing (MIT and coffee in the morning), you will certainly make it a habit.  Getting more disciplined and organized can lead to a better understanding of yourself, your goals and make you laser-focused on getting what you want. Crazy as it sounds, it can be a road to a better life.  Let us know what your organizational “hacks” are and have a productive, disciplined week!