A system you can keep for life

“I need to get organized so I can do my work,” people say to me often.

  • I want to write a novel, but first I need to organize my notes.
  • I want to get a new job, but first I need to create a system to manage the process.
  • I want to take on more clients, but first I need to create a process to manage them.

It’s really tempting to organize in anticipation of a problem, instead of organizing in reaction to a problem. 

But organizing in anticipation is bad. Usually you end up building giant, complex systems that are cumbersome to use that you abandon after a few weeks. You end up not starting your project at all because the organizing was too demoralizing.

Why? We organize to help avoid the problems that crop up while we’re doing the work. But you can’t predict what problems are going to come up before we start. So organizing before you’ve done the work usually creates systems that don’t reflect our actual needs.

That’s bad.

So how do we fix this? 

Well, instead of building a gigantic system up front what we want to do instead is build up a comprehensive system over time, piece by piece.

It’s a special case of Gall’s Law: 

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

The reality is, many of us (me included) spend time organizing in response to fear. It’s fear that: 

If I fail at my book, then I’ll never write one.

If I fail at getting a new job, then I’ll never get a new one.

If I fail at taking on one more client, then my business will die.

The logic goes: if things go wrong, then I will have permanently messed up. Therefore I need to plan, and organize, and systematize in order to make sure things don’t go wrong.

And that’s when we end up building gigantic, complicated systems that we end up abandoning.

But there are other ways to respond to fear, too:

Are you afraid to write a novel?

Lower the stakes. Write a one paragraph story, and give yourself permission to write it badly.

Are you afraid to start a job search? 

Make it feel less daunting. Apply for just one job.

Are you afraid of taking on more clients?

Get a reality check. Ask yourself how likely it really is that a few more clients will be your breaking point.

Once the emotional problem is fixed, go do the work. Then as problems come up, don’t panic. This was expected. Now it’s time to organize:

Add a piece to your system to fix the problem, then get back to work.

Doing things this way will allow you to build a comprehensive system for yourself that works without getting in the way.

You’ll build a system that’s rough around the edges. But it will be warm and comforting. It will be like the couch that has a divot in it right where you usually sit. Or the worn baseball cap with a little tear on the bill that fits your head snug as a slipper.

It will be a system you can keep for life.


Special Deal for Members: Supercharge Your Productivity Course

My good friend Khe Hy, author of RadReads, is opening up the next batch of his course Supercharge Your Productivity for early birds.

I negotiated a deal with him to allow Superorganizers Members the ability to: 

I don’t make anything from this — it’s just part of my ongoing drive to make your Superorganizers Premium membership as valuable as possible. The offer expires at midnight on 5/1 so check it out if you’re interested!

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