What is the story you're telling yourself about your ability to get organized?
My son couldn’t find his golf clubs.
It’s finally (almost) spring in my part of the world. He had last played golf more than six months ago. The clubs had disappeared somewhere, in the garage or the basement. Probably.
He doesn’t like being disorganized. He really doesn’t like not being able to find his things.
He kept searching the same three spots in our house and getting more and more frustrated. Muttering to himself. Where could they have gone? Why didn’t I put them in an obvious place? I hate when this happens!
As the minutes passed and he still couldn’t find them, the self talk escalated. It moved away from frustration with the situation and towards self defeating comments. What is wrong with me? Why do I always do this?
What is important to understand about my son is that he struggles with Executive Function. If you don’t know what that is, let’s take an important detour to explain.
What is Executive Function?
One of my favorite books on the topic is aptly named Late, Lost, and Unprepared, by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, PhD and Laurie Dietzel, PhD. Their book defines Executive Function as:
A set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It’s an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self regulation.
There are eight major areas of Execution Function. They include:
shift (switching from one task to the next),
initiation (the ability to begin a task),
organization of materials, and
This is what you need to understand about Executive Function. If you struggle with any of the areas above, it is possible that your brain is wired that way. That you are struggling with the neurological skills associated with Executive Function.
What it doesn’t mean is that it’s a mark on who you are as a person. Or that you don’t have incredible, positive qualities as well. It’s simply a piece of your own puzzle to acknowledge and understand.
The Stories We Tell About Our Ability To Get And Stay Organized
So, back to my son and the golf clubs.
I know my son inside and out. I know so well that he really, really wants to be organized. And that the way his brain works means that staying organized is way harder for him than it is for me. It has nothing to do with will, or not caring, or laziness. It’s just plain hard.
There is the act of being organized. And then there is the story we tell ourselves about our ability to be organized.
It is true that he didn’t create a system or put his golf clubs in a logical place. He wanted to find them but didn’t do it, this time.
However, it isn’t true that he isn’t able to figure this out over time, learn from his mistake, or that there is something wrong with him.
The real struggle with organization is keeping yourself in the right mental space. Telling yourself that it is possible for you to organize your house, to be on time, to catch up on that back log of work. It’s the struggle to remove the negative self talk, the story in your head that you’ll never be able to do it.
If you can tell yourself a different story. Open up the possibility that there is room and ability for you to improve. It won’t immediately make you achieve these things. But it will allow you to consider that you can learn your own way to best perform these tasks.
The true fact is that it is harder for some people to stay organized than others. The inaccurate story is that you can’t.
Your Mindset Is Why You Keep Reading Productivity Articles But Don’t Try What They Suggest
What is it like when you do try to get organized? Do you try one thing, one time, and then throw your hands in the air when it doesn’t work. You lost your golf clubs in your own house one time. Then you made the decision that you’ll never be able to find your golf clubs without wandering around muttering to yourself.
But what if you thought, it’s possible that I can work on this? If you changed your thoughts. Considered the idea that your struggles with organization don’t make you a bad person. Just someone who needs to find the right tools.
You won’t know until you actually try. And you won’t actually try until you believe in yourself.
If you believe that it’s possible, then you will not make it mean anything when one system or attempt doesn’t work. It will only mean that you need to keep going, keep trying, until you find the one that does.
The right mindset can be the difference between consuming volumes of productivity articles and actually trying what they suggest.
Because here is the truth. You already know ten different ways to manage your time, or organize your house, or start your day. You’ve read about it, thought about it, consumed it.
This can’t be the first productivity article that you’ve ever read. And it won’t be your last.
But if you spent a fraction of the time that you spend reading these articles actually trying some of their suggestions. You’d likely have found your own system, or method. The one that works with your unique strengths and weaknesses.
But reading these articles without trying what they suggest means you don’t believe in yourself. You think it’s too hard, or you’re not “the kind of person” who can follow what they advise.
It’s not true. It’s never true.
Eventually I relented, searched the house, and found my son’s golf clubs for him. He was relieved. And then he and I discussed where he would keep them going forward. We talked about logical locations. And he made a decision about exactly where they would live, now and forever.
He was motivated to improve. I believe with all my heart that he can. And we worked together to figure out how to avoid losing his golf clubs again.
He is 11 years old. He’s not supposed to be a fully independent human, yet. But the most important tool that I can teach him is not to give up when things get hard, when he messes up, when he loses something.
He’s still a good person. He still has the capacity to learn and do better. And so do you.
So stop reading this article and the hundreds of others out there and try something. One thing. Give it a week. Keep trying it. Tweak it if you need to. See if it helps. And if it doesn’t, don’t make it mean anything about you. Try something else.
Because you don’t need one more recommendation. You need to believe in yourself and the possibility that you can change, improve.
As Henry Ford famously said:
Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.