Whenever you set a goal, you can count on obstacles getting in the way of achieving that goal. What is your most potent tool to navigate through those obstacles? In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” it is listed as Habit 3: Put First Things First. I call it organization.
So many goals go unachieved not because of lack of intelligence, talent or vision, but because of lack of organization.
For example, I’ve found that as a therapist one of my biggest challenges is convincing couples to spend time together organizing a budget. Many couples would rather do anything, including blame and fight, than try to figure out the monthly flow of income and expenses. Unresolved emotional issues are fueling the conflict that cripples couples working together. Debt follows.
Lack of organization not only undermines the achievement of goals, but results in enormous worry and anxiety. People end up lurching from crisis to crisis. They rely on a crisis management reaction to problems, which are always popping up without warning.
Perhaps that’s the point. If you’re bored or depressed, and crave the rush of unpredictability and chaos, then disorganization is for you. On the other hand, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the avalanche of painful consequences, then today is the day to take charge of your life. Begin to organize a plan for your future.
There are individuals whose ability to organize is limited by a condition called Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Think of ADHD as having a brain that lets too many things through its filter. People with ADHD are constantly being distracted by external stimuli that other people automatically tune out. This results in symptoms of high distractibility, disorganization and lack of follow through. This is not a moral failing. It is a neurological condition. If you or your children are constantly swimming upstream in a struggle to get organized, arrange for an assessment and counseling.
Anyone, even someone with ADHD, can succeed in life. What can you do to get organized to succeed, i.e. get things done? Covey proposes this guiding principle: Organize and execute around priorities. This is about structuring time.
Rank the most important, meaningful, and urgent tasks that need to get done. These may not be the most enjoyable tasks, but the ones most necessary to keep moving toward your larger goals. For example, filling the gas tank is not a lot of fun, but it sure helps if you want the car to get you to work or school.
Help your children develop the habit of using checklists. Checking off the completed tasks will help them feel good about getting closer to finishing that science project. In the adult world these checklists may evolve into pocket calendars, appointment books and BlackBerrys.
Hang some brightly colored folders in a portable file box. Label each with a different heading: School Projects, Favorite Comics, Birthday Cards, etc.
For immediate tasks, such as getting children ready for bed, use a kitchen timer. This can set up a “race against the clock” to get to bed on time. For longer projects, color code dates on a calendar.
Chaos is stressful. Organize and structure to set free.
Children are impulsive. Teaching organization is a gradual, ongoing project. Don’t be too rigid. Children need lots of coaching and guidance because they are learning and growing. Teach the joy of making progress.
(Pankratz is a marriage and family therapist at Catholic Charities Milwaukee regional office.)