Look at Organization in a New Way

Guest Post by Jeff Copper

We can get caught up in paying attention to how we want things to be and lose sight of how things actually are.

I’ve coached many teens and college students around organization and, I too, thought they were very disorganized. When I opened my mind, it all changed. From my MBA and process class, I learned that you start by mapping out the current system before making adjustments. The exercise can be very insightful and apply to late teens and young adults. Let me illustrate.

Recently, I was coaching a college student on organizing and cleaning his room. His mother constantly complained to him about the mess. We started talking about how he needed to organize his clothes by hanging them or folding and putting them in his drawers. This is often a challenge for those with ADHD because it’s a boring task and it has a lot of repetition. When deadlines and penalties were imposed, he would sometimes try to organize his room, but day to day, he struggled to keep it clean. Often he would take a shirt off the hanger, try it on, decide he didn’t want to wear it, then drop it on the floor because, as he acknowledged, he didn’t want the hassle of putting it back on the hanger and hanging it up in his over-stuffed closet.

“What is your system to get your shirts back on a hanger,” I asked. He replied he didn’t have a system. I then asked him to look in his closet and to let me know if he saw any hanging shirts. He replied that roughly 40 shirts were hanging. I responded, “there seems to be a system, or you wouldn’t have anything there.”  This is when he got his “Aha!” — he acknowledged that his “system” was to drop the shirts on the floor or in the hamper and eventually his mother would wash and hang them. It was a flawless system. Certainly, her occasional nagging was a bit uncomfortable, but not negative enough to motivate him to override this “system.” It was working for him.

What is the Aha!? At the core of organizing is a choice around motivation and effort. You have a choice: exert effort NOW to put things in their home and make retrieval effortless, i.e. “a place for everything, everything in its place.” Or, you can choose to exert effort LATER when you’re motivated to find what you want. Putting shorts in a drawer takes effort, but makes finding them easy. Leaving clothes in a pile is effortless up front, but effortful as you search for shorts that are needed at the time you need them. Notice that the effort in the latter is put in the backside, at the point of performance, where there is a reward (finding your shorts).

Action steps: Take a page from the business process book and map out existing systems with an eye to recognizing that current “systems” are there for a reason — they work efficiently for the individual based on their own set of priorities. With this mindset, you can open your mind and incrementally make adjustments, i.e. when you witness the impact effort plays in the systems that work, and focus on new systems that minimize or balance effort — new, more efficient systems can emerge. Aha! Open Your Mind!

Parenting ADHD Podcast 027: Teens with ADHD and the Reality of Motivation, with Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC

In addition, don’t miss Jeff’s stellar interview on the Parenting ADHD Podcast! Check it out here: PAP 027: Teens with ADHD and the Reality of Motivation.