Sunday, November 21, 2010
I Hear This A Lot:
"You're So Organized!"
It's almost always said with a certain amount of openly expressed envy, and often with a palpable sense of sadness, as though some people are just born organized, or blonde, or attractive, and if you're not one of lucky ones...too bad.
I understand this attitude and I used to share it. Being organized used to seem like something one either was or was not, not something one either developed or did not. I have noticed that some people seem naturally more anxious than others and some of these people have taken refuge in organizing things because it helps them allay anxiety. I've also noticed that some people have a natural ability to keep track of several things at once. But I don't think anyone is born organized.
I used to be a terrible procrastinator when I was a kid and my room was always pretty disorganized and messy. I'd periodically give it a thorough going over and enjoy the results, but it would never last. Being organized seemed "uptight", cleaning up was a drag, and staying cleaned up was even worse.
Then in 1981, I moved to New York City, ostensibly to pursue a career in music, but instead I got involved with a small therapy cult group called Direct Centering (DC). We put on a weekend course and the whole organization was dedicated to registering people for this course, putting on the course, and then getting people who graduated from the course to become assistants and help us register more people.
I learned a lot of lessons at DC, many of them negative and many of them expensive. But one thing that was clear to me from the start of my involvement there was that this was an organization that was serious about getting results. Everyone wanted people to do this course and become assistants. Everyone wanted to give the world the Direct Centering experience. Everything in the office was set up to get that result as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Everyone was on the lookout for "stop-flows", that is, things that would waste time and energy that would be better spent on more important matters. Everything was clean and "conscious", our jargon for "purposeful and organized".
For instance it was policy for everyone's desk to be set up so that the things used most often were the closest at hand. If your desk was disorganized, you were disorganized, and your commitment to the organization was therefore in question. The logic was: If you are committed to giving the world this course, why does your desk not reflect this? What are you hiding? What is your secret "Fuck You" to the organization that you are expressing in this obvious disregard for getting the best results you can get?
Now this was a very authoritarian group, there were many, many crazy and unhealthy things about it. I'm very glad that I came to my senses after a couple of years and got the Hell out. But one of the most valuable lessons I took out of my time there was seeing the relationship between what I say I want to do with my life, and the way my life is actually set up.
Early on in my time at DC, I went home and completely re-organized my living quarters so that the way I lived matched what I was after in my life. And I've more or less lived that way ever since. Being disorganized simply gets in the way of the kinds of results that I want in my life. And since I actually want these results, as opposed to just thinking that I want them, I've become an organized person.
To me the key to becoming, staying, and enjoying being organized is to be committed to getting the kind of results that being organized helps me to get.
For example, I have a lot of movies on DVD. I have them separated into different categories and filed in several disc wallets. I have a directory in my computer where I keep track of which movies I have and where they are filed. I do this because I don't like hunting around for DVD's. It's a waste of time and I hate hunting around for things. When I want a particular movie, I look up the title in my directory which tells me where to find it. It took a little while to set up, but since then it's been really easy to maintain. When I get a new movie, I just type it into the directory.
Here's an even better example, I write a lot of songs and I like to record the songs I write and post them on my site for downloading, free or with a donation. It feels deeply right to me to do this. It's part of my mission in life. I want to make it as easy as possible for the world to find my music, I want to make it as easy as possible for the world to "tip" me, and I want to see what comes back when I do this. My goal is not to be rich or famous, I just want to express myself and see if what I come up with is of value to other people. I am trying to make a living in this world and whatever comes back financially, I'm very grateful for, but I'm not in it for the money and I don't make a lot of money at music.
I have over 20 CD's of music so far. I can't afford to have large runs of each album printed up and I wouldn't likely sell them anyway. So I burn and assemble the CD's myself as I sell them. I have a friend who helps me design and print the paper inserts that go in the CD cases. I have to keep track of how many sets of each album I have on hand so that I can order more from my friend when I'm running low. This means keeping a separate folder for each album with sets of inserts for that album, as well as keeping track of how many sets for each album I have on hand. It also means having a supply of blank CD's ready to burn, a supply of empty jewel cases ready to be filled, a supply of empty plastic bags to put each assembled CD in, and a supply of price stickers ready for each CD. I also need a case ready with at least one copy of each album in it to take to gigs. And I need a safe place for the master discs that I burn copies from.
And this is in addition to actually writing the songs, and recording, mixing and mastering them into album form. I work with a sound engineer who is a good friend and we have a nice system down. Once I get an album completed, the inserts designed and printed, and copies burned, bagged, priced and ready to sell, I still have to send a copy to my web man so he can post them on my site. Once they're posted I still have to "meta-tag" the songs so that when people download them they get the song information along with the song. I still have to send a copy to CD Baby so they can post them on their site as well as make them available to a bunch of on-line retailers, including iTunes. And I still have to send a couple of copies to the Register of Copyrights in Washington, D.C. and to the handful of close friends and family who always want one of whatever I record.
I also have to have all of the lyrics for all of my songs typed into my computer, so I can print hard copies to make recording faster and easier, and so I can send pdf's of the lyrics for each album to my web man so he can post them along with the album on my site. I also like to have the lyrics available to send to anyone who might want to cover one of the songs, or to post on facebook if I think someone will enjoy them. I also have to send out emails and facebook posts announcing that I've "released" another album. I also like to keep jpg.'s of all my album covers on hand in case I need or want to post them somewhere. And I'm sure I'm leaving out a few other things I need to do or keep track of as well.
Now, do you think I could do all of this, at least 2 or 3 times a year, if I wasn't organized? Of course I couldn't. I have to type those lyrics up as I write the songs. I can't wait 'til later. I have to see the needs of the future coming and attend to setting up supplies now to meet those needs when they come up. I have to keep track of everything involved in order to free up the time and space I need to actually write the songs themselves. I also have two non-fiction books, one about Songwriting and one about T'ai-Chi, that I've self-published and a couple of poetry books that I put together myself at our local copy place. I need to have copies of all of them on hand as well as mailing envelopes should anyone order one.
The more "stop-flows" in my life, the more time I spend looking for things, fixing emergencies, or being caught without vital supplies, the less time I have to write, sing, practice and enjoy my life, my wife, and my friends.
I'm organized because I learned the price of not being organized. I have a few natural abilities that make being organized a little easier, but the real reason I can do it is that I want what I say I want, and being organized helps me bring it into being. I think that when someone says they want something, but they are not organized about making it happen, that they actually want something else more.
So if you are one of those people who think you are just not organized by nature, if the way you live works against what you say you want, I would advise you to ask yourself if perhaps there is something else you want more than what you say you want. Get to the truth of what you most deeply want and I think you'll see that you are already doing what you can to make it happen. Your disorganization might be the perfect way to make this other thing happen, this thing that perhaps you haven't admitted to yourself that you want. If you can manage to want what you want, and want nothing else more, and if being organized helps this come to pass, you will become organized. Or, if you've sorted out what you want most, and are committed to moving towards it, but still feel somehow organically handicapped in the organization department, you will hire someone else to do it. If you can't afford it, you'll work out a trade of some kind, or you'll do the best you can with your own abilities. But you will not be saying helplessly, "I can't get what I want. I'm just not organized!"