Monday, January 18, 2010

I Am Organized, Dammit!

I’m a very organized person. I once built a database to organize and catalog my cassette tapes years before iTunes figured out how to do that for us online. I painstakingly organized my baseball card collection into scores of cardboard boxes, each labeled on both ends and all stored according to the year issued. I aligned books on my bookshelf by size to prevent them from sliding over and to ensure all of the spines were visible. A colleague once called me fastidiously attentive to details in my advertising contracts. My wife once marveled at how well organized, clean and uncluttered my desk and office were (though she perceived me to be completely unorganized at home, erroneously, I might add). I realized tonight that I am by nature, quite an organized person. But somehow my family perceives me as quite the opposite. And worse, I believed the opposite, too. How could this happen?


Every year my Mom would take me to Jamesway for back to school supplies. I enjoyed flipping through Mead’s latest selection of binders and always went home with a Data Center, a Trapper Keeper and/or a variety of spiral notebooks. I took great care in counting the number of tabs and pockets to be sure there was one for each class. I chose spiral notebooks to coordinate with my schedule. One, five-subject spiral notebook would do fine for the Tuesday/Thursday schedule for the entire year without having to make extra trips to my locker. A single subject notebook would do for classes like typing and computer science. Clearly, this is an example of an organized person, one who is excited to start school. Yet within weeks, the new binder would be overstuffed with handouts that didn’t quite fit into the pockets along with myriad papers with frayed edges ripped from the spiral notebooks. The metal spirals would be deformed and the notebooks covered in some very creative doodling while each page showed a single frame of a full-length animated cartoon at the lower right hand corner. Very few class notes were written in these notebooks.

Yet only weeks earlier I’d placed great importance on these books. What happened?

Forgetful or Unorganized?

My teachers knew well that, occasionally, I’d forget to do my homework. Occasionally, I’d even forget to bring home the very little notebook we were required to have and in which we were required to write down what homework was assigned so it wouldn’t be forgotten. Occasionally, I’d arrive in class only to remember that a quiz or test was to be taken. It’s understandable that any parents witnessing these lapses year after year might label their son as unorganized. “If only he were more organized then he’d remember these things,” I suppose my parents thought to themselves. I don’t recall what they actually said about it, if anything, since it’s hard to argue when even this visibly unorganized process unfailingly brings home A’s and B’s and annual evenings at the honors dinner. But as this process played on for 12 years, it is clear now that even I came to believe I was naturally unorganized.

How can the person who leaves the homework assignment notebook in his locker at school at the end of the day be the same person who meticulously organizes his baseball card collection as a child and today runs a company that meets deadlines on a daily basis without fail?


It doesn’t take a professional scientist to conclude that the child organizing the baseball cards and carefully selecting the ideal three-ring binder is the same person who meets tight deadlines and works from a clean, uncluttered (mostly) desk as an adult. The oddity, or anomaly if you prefer, where a profound lack of organization is evident appears only at school or around assignments related to school. When involved in self-directed or otherwise inspiring and important pursuits, I’ve demonstrated serious organizational skills. Only when forced to do schoolwork that I’d found uninspiring and deemed unimportant does any hint of disorganization appear.

So what is it about schooling that causes naturally organized people to act in a disorganized manner and over time, come to believe that they are in fact naturally disorganized? What else are children learning to believe about themselves from schooling that isn’t true, or wasn’t true when they first began schooling? What damage might it cause and how might it affect their ability to succeed as adults?

I suspect many people tire of organizing their clothing, kids' toys and even the day's mail. But the truly important jobs always seem to get organized just fine.

If there are any published studies addressing this issue, please post a link.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul, you're right! This is so much like what my Blog article at was about.

School is, generally, a good thing, but the inspiration to organize--or anything else--comes from your passion/genius, and too often what's important for the many is to squelch that individual passion.

As adults, though, we have the power--maybe even the obligation to ourselves, to reclaim it.

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