By Carmen Hoober
Thursday, September 27, 2018

Is there anything more soothing than walking the aisles of an office supplies store? I think not. The voice of God is clearer to me among the clipboards and calendars and pretty file folders and desk organizers and festively colored paper clips than anywhere else. It makes me happy just thinking about it. I'm convinced that one of the cheapest forms of therapy is simply to meander through Staples – letting the displays of envelopes, binders, and other office supplies renew my spirit.

Confession: I'm actually a recovering slob. Not the kind of slob who ignores globs of toothpaste in the sink or who stays in pajamas for days, but the kind that piles stuff up (clothes, dishes, papers, laundry) until I have time to clean and put things away perfectly. I truly love the idea of being organized (a place for everything and everything in its place), and I even do a decent job of setting up organizational systems – but maintaining them … well, that's another story. I can be quite organized … until I get overwhelmed or distracted, which is, of course, when being organized would come in most handy.

People are often surprised that someone who loves organization as much as I do struggles with procrastination and clutter and getting herself to the right place at the right time. I liken my attraction to organization to why sinners love Jesus – not because they are so naturally holy and spiritual – but precisely because they are not. I've come to the realization that I just can't be as organized as I want to be if left to my own devices. Therefore, I am always looking for a savior in the form of systems or structures or schedules: including books and apps and pinning things and randomly touching things to see if they "spark joy." I've tried to use a planner approximately 7,219 times. It turns out that I am really good at picking out cute planners, but not so good at pulling it out to use it when I should.

Some people are just naturally organized and that's great. But (since I get to interview many of you) I happen to know that I am not alone in my struggles and that many of you struggle with organization, productivity, and time management as well (it usually comes up in our interview with the "What would you say is your growing edge?" question). But like so many things in life, it's helpful to have a growth mindset: personal management and organization are skills you can learn, and I have, so be assured that there is HOPE. True, it's something I have to work really hard at, and I still struggle and drop the ball sometimes, but through the years, I have learned a lot about what works for me and what doesn't.

Clearly, I am not an expert in this area, but I've done some living and so I humbly offer you some of my own wisdom about getting your life in order.

  1. The best system or tool for you to use is the one that works for you right now. Stop beating yourself up because something that works for someone else does not work for you. Also, if something that worked for you in a different season of life (say, college) does not work for you anymore, it does not mean you're a failure. It might just be time to try something different.
  2. Give yourself permission to try some new things, but once you find something that shows promise (i.e., a calendar, app, schedule, system, etc.), use it for at least a month before moving on to something else.   
  3. Different people have different resources, but you don't need fancy supplies or the newest technology to get organized. A little creativity goes a long way and the amount of FREE apps and Internet resources are infinite – and I'm always surprised at the goodies I can find in thrift stores. Example: I was really intrigued at the idea of this Weekly Action Planner but because I am not going to spend $20 on a pad of paper, I opened up Microsoft Word, inserted a table, modified it a bit to suit my style (read: cute fonts), and made a DIY version that I print off every week and put on a clipboard. Lesson: Let the thriftiness and creativity flow!

With all of that in mind, below are links to some wide-ranging articles on the topic of organization and time/personal management.

  • How to set up your desk for optimum productivity. Depending on your role and what kind of vibe you're going for, you might want a space that is crisp and professional or a space that is homey and inviting. Either way, it needs to be functional and it needs to be clean.  
  • Do you like Internet quizzes? I like Internet quizzes. Take this quiz to find out your organizing style, and check out the website for all kinds of surprisingly helpful organizing advice. This has implications for work and home life and might be a fun activity to do together as a unit! (FYI: I'm a Butterfly married to a Ladybug).
  • If you're searching for a new calendar app on either iOS or Android devices, I highly recommend reading this. More and more I'm using the calendar native to my iPhone – I've been pleasantly surprised at how good it is AND how it syncs with my Outlook calendar (which I have to use for work), meaning I don't have to mess with the crummy Outlook interface on my mobile phone.
  • Time management is difficult ... so many cat videos, so little time … am I right? Take a look at this list and pick out one or two ideas to try to increase your productivity (I recognize myself in #7 – gonna work on that). I am also currently (finally) reading some Steven Covey: First Things First and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Here is what I know: Your whole adult life people are going to reference Steven Covey books. Just get it over with and read them. The universe will not be satisfied until you do. If you're STILL resisting, here is my favorite concept – the Eisenhower Matrix of time management.
  • More on planners. Are you an analog guy or gal? If you like things to be handwritten, there is a whole community of people who will welcome you into their weird enthusiastic little tribe. This is next level stuff, you guys. There are stickers and "layouts" and heated debates about which are the best markers. Last year I tried a paper planner and succeeded for about eight months – I only lasted that long because I did spring for some of those cute stickers.
  • Maybe you've heard of bullet journaling? I love this video – and I also love how customizable and creative you can make them. Whether you prefer bare bones or artistic and beautiful, the Internet is full of examples to get you started. Cooler people than me have developed digital bullet journals, which work best if you have a tablet and a stylus.
  • I'm currently discerning if the reason I want to try using the Pomodoro Technique is because it sounds so common-sense and useful or because I think it would be fun to have a little timer shaped like a tomato
  • The productivity tool that I'm most excited about right now is voice dictation. In the past six months I've been learning how to use voice dictation features on my phone and smart watch ("Hey Siri" for Apple or "OK Google" for Android) to add things to my calendar and give myself reminders. It has been kind of revolutionary for me. I still use my Outlook calendar on my PC for the bulk of scheduling appointments and meetings, BUT having the ability to add things to my calendar, set a timer or alarm, and give myself reminders with just my voice somehow suits my personality – particularly when I am overwhelmed or distracted. It's hands-free, which makes it easier to follow through the second I think about it. I know I've just cracked the surface of voice dictation; I'm excited to start incorporating it more into my life (next step: using it on my PC). (Bonus: I get to look like Penny from Inspector Gadget when I talk into my watch – fulfilling at least one childhood fantasy – but, just in case you're reading this, Tim Cook, I'm still patiently waiting for my laser beam …)

Through the years, I've realized that having a well-ordered life requires the discipline of staying in a moment long enough to recognize that my future moments will be filled with more satisfaction and joy and less anxiety and frustration if I am intentional about acting on my priorities. Organization is not an altar at which I want to worship; however, it does create space for God's shalom to occur – In my life and in the lives of those I live and work with. Beauty, productivity, and order were all found in the Garden … which, I'm just sayin', sounds a lot like Staples.


​Carmen Hoober is a personnel counselor for Mennonite Mission Network.



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