When we organize, what are we doing?  Do we put things into nice orders?  Make them somehow aesthetically pleasing?

I define organization as:

Organization is the process of clearing and supporting paths for the development of things we find meaningful.

To clear and support paths, there are three components:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Avoidability
  3. Awareness

Accessibility refers to how easily we can get to something when we need or want it.  Ideally, it is instantly accessible. When we are truly skilled at its use, we may barely even know we are using it.  For example, we can consider common words of our primary language as instantly accessible.

Avoidability refers to how easily we can avoid something when we do not need or want it. Ideally, it is invisible.  For example, a coat in the closet during the summer months is generally invisible and quite avoidable.

Awareness refers to how are we are of whether something is supporting us or in the way.  It directly correlates to accessibility and avoidability, respectively. Ideally, we should be instantly aware of whether something is supporting us or not.  As an example, if I want to know when the next bus arrives, if I am unaware that an app exists to tell me that information, that app is, in a sense, not organized.

The reason I bring this up, and the reason I bring up such varied examples, is to demonstrate that these principles exist in all media, including our task systems.  We wish to be aware of a relevant task when and where it is important to be aware of it, and not at other times.

Further, the skill of organization is a practice. Too often, people label themselves as “organized” or “disorganized”. The above set up removes such state-like descriptions and instead makes organization itself a relative thing.  If you live in what others would call messy but it still supports you well where you find things to be meaningful, then you are organized.  If you wish to make things more organized, you need to then consider,

  • How can I be made more aware of something when and where I need to be?
  • How can I make something more accessible/useable?
  • How can I make something more avoidable when I don’t need it?

To practice organization, I could suggest the following:

  • Create a repeating task in OmniFocus. Consider using the Defer Another function set to daily.
  • Title it: Organize one object.
  • Flag it or give it a context in which you would see it daily.
  • Copy and paste the 3 questions I’ve listed above into the note field.

When the task arrives, choose one item nearby that you haven’t used much lately, but is still hanging around–some piece of clutter–and ask the questions.  While the practice does gradually help you organize one piece per day, the practice itself begins to build a certain skill that you can use throughout your days.

For more detail and practice with organizing and its principles, consider Workflow Mastery: Building from the Basics.