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Productivity & Organizing Myth #6 – I can find anything in my piles.

Productivity & Organizing Myth #6 – I can find anything in my piles.

Myth: Piles of papers or things are organized and people can find anything quickly in those piles. They say, “Believe it or not I know where everything is.”
Reality: It takes a lot of time for people to find specific papers within piles and often they don’t find the papers until they’re no longer needed. This leafing through piles often causes a lot of stress that the user is accustomed to but relieved to eliminate by getting organized in the end. Papers grouped together by topic are the most useful and findable.

Pile

    You know the scene. You walk into an office or cube and see papers everywhere. The piles of papers might be neat – stacked horizontally as individual towers of unknown ‘important stuff.’ The piles of paper might be smeared across the desk leaving no desktop showing and looking like a mound. Usually old piles or special collections were relocated to the floor making it difficult to move about in the space.

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    Sometime you can’t have a meeting in the person’s office because there just isn’t a clear view between you and him or because the visitor’s chair holds the papers related to the last couple of projects.


    When decluttering offices with clients I often hear, “Oh, there it is! I haven’t seen that in a while,” and,”Oh, there it is, I could have used that last week!” Hours before, when we first got together, they said they can find anything then they show the reality ~ they lost things in the piles.

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    Last week we found a folder titled, Review, in Jane’s cubicle. The contents of the folder help her contribute to her annual performance review at work every January. She usually looks at the last couple of years’ goals, objectives, and progress and is ready to write her portion of the review with long-range point of view. But, this year her she had to write it on the fly because that folder was buried under months of completed paperwork. We relocated the Review folder in a file drawer designated for the personal side of her recordkeeping. (That is opposed to the project collateral of her other file drawers.) We labeled the folder more clearly and she will be able to find it in a snap next time she needs it.

    Another frequent result of piling things is ending up owning multiple of them or having to go without. For example, Howard always borrows scissors from Blake since they have a low wall separating their cubes. When decluttering Howard’s space we found scissors ~ they were under the pile of thing in the drawer all along.

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    Some readers will relate in that they have multiples of things because they couldn’t find their thing so bought another. For example, they might have 3 or 4 vegetable peelers. Often I hear of closets with 5 of the same color shirt in basically the same style because the original shirts got hidden in an over-crowded and disorganized closet. In the garage they might have 3 identical hose nozzles.

    The productive solution to this clutter myth is to put like things together, identify the home for the group, label the home, and return items to the home consistently.

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    Previous Myths:

    Susan Sabo is an intrepid traveler who has organized her life to be out of the country for months at a time. Antarctica is the only unvisited continent (so far). She’s the author at www.productivitycafe.com, consults with professionals on improving their personal productivity and presents motivating productivity SOPs & tips (such as how to get home for dinner) to groups.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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