Taxes suck. Besides being horribly complicated, they highlight my inclination toward disorder rather than order. While I covet organizational systems, I don’t find that I use many of them or use them for long. This isn’t to say that I don’t generally know where to go find stuff, but I’m definitely more of a piler than a filer and not proud of it.
All of this got me to thinking though of the cost of organization, not only in time and energy, but also psychologically feeling behind. Clearly, the cost of disorganization is easy to recognize — people who feel neglected because they happened to fall off the top of the inbox pile, to-do committments that get missed because they slipped through the cracks, not being able to find a critical receipt for tax purposes. This is the reason I covet organizational systems, but I also find that if I become a slave to those systems I spent more time on the system then the benefits I obtain by having it.
This got me to thinking about organizational systems in general and how to measure the benefits AND costs of the system in order to optimize the throughput/effectiveness of myself. The costs normally come in the the form of time spent organizing as well as a piling list of to-do items that are never really going to get done. The cost of not having the system becomes the best way to measure the benefit – besides the psychological thrill of owning your world rather than it owning you. What is the cost of having something fall through the cracks? What is the relational cost of not getting back to people who email you? etc.
So my desire is to be organized, to rule the world I live in and not be a slave to it, yet also not to waste my time on busy work that gets me only negligable return. I want the system to be as simple as possible, but not simpler, as they say.
It was in this mindset that I came across the book, “The Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder”. I normally don’t buy books at full price, but this was was too timely to my current thinking and so I bought it and plan to read it shortly. Before doing so, I wanted to capture some of my own thoughts and see how they compare, hence, this post.
One final thought I have on this is that I think some of the things we perceive as messy, are actually order that transcends our comprehension. This is basically the idea behind Chaos Math (not that there is no order, but rather that the order lies outside of our ability to quickly comprehend it. Anyway, I may delve more into some of the ideas I have on cost structures etc after I read the book. I also found a few other books that I’ll need to read, and since I now have two friends who are GTD (Getting Things Done) fans, I’m sure I’ll have to read that book too.
You have given me an idea for the software I am writing a feasibility study for. I already was planning to have statistics on use because I find these useful myself when software has them. The idea of tracking the time users spend doing various tasks that you call ‘organizing system’ tasks would make sense. I find that the reason I cannot use MSOutlook organization tools is that the tool is not structured as a tool to organize. I think it could be without much overhead, but it would take a couple guys, a lot of potato chips and coke, and a compiler.
The idea that chaos has value is one that I’m skeptical of.
One more thought here. I find it interesting that the NEO mail tool (that I love) does not work best with folders. What this means is that all of my emails go into a single folder. I create 2007-Sent and 2007-Received folders, then just file everything there. The data does not have to be physically organized to be organized. NEO creates the organization through attributes of the file that the user does not have to add. This is how NEO saves me time–it creates the order automagically. It could be better though–much better–but to explain this would require that you would be a user.