Creative Commons photo by mpclemens

Creative Commons photo by mpclemens

How are you feeling about the approaching Holidays? How about the end of the year? If you read those two questions and felt a

sense of calm, nodding as you thought of the wrapped presents for your clients/friends/family, your 2014 goals neatly ticked off, your organized plan for moving your horse business forward in 2015, then read no further — this post is NOT for you. Shoot me an email and let me know what it’s like in your world — must be fascinating.

If, on the other hand, you felt a mild (or extreme) sense of panic, and your brain felt like it might implode from to-do-list overload, take a deep breath and read on — this post is most definitely for YOU.

In the title, I promised both good news and bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first, shall we?

The bad news is that there isn’t a single perfect system out there. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of good systems”out there” – just Google “organizing system”. I came up with 116 million results in less than a .22 seconds. That’s a lot of organizing systems. (Caveat – if you’re easily distracted by shiny promises of a perfectly organized life, I do NOT recommend Googling this for yourself, you could get lost in there for hours…)

What I’m saying is that none of these 116 million systems are perfect, at least not for you (or me). And that’s OK. I figure if I let you know that right up front, I may save you the 30 plus years I’ve been looking. (If you’ve already spent more than 30 years, I apologize for not getting here sooner).

So if those systems aren’t perfect – where’s the good news?

The good news is that you can’t find the perfect system because you’re looking in all the wrong places, namely “out there”.

For as long as people have been handing out advice, we’ve been told to go inside. Not as in your mother telling you to go inside because it’s 13 degrees out and you’re building snowmen in your tee shirt, but as in staying true to what is right for you. From Shakespeare (“To thine own self be true”), to Astrid in ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ (“What you’re looking for isn’t out there, Hiccup, it’s in here”, as she lovingly pats his chest).

The point is, what works for “other people” may not work so well for you. But to give you even better news, here are 5 simple steps you can use to craft your own excellent system.

1. Know yourself. Polonius was right (despite the fact that he was a somewhat pompous old windbag), when he advised Laertes “To thine own self be true”. If you know you love paper-based calendars and are relatively tech-phobic, don’t run out and get the latest software for your phone in hopes that you’ll learn to love it. Stick to what works for you. Remember, this doesn’t have to be forever, just try it for a month and see how you like it, which brings me to point #2.

2. None of this is set in stone. Don’t be afraid to try a pocket calendar, wall calendar or 3 x 5 cards if you’re a paper fan; or a new calendar app for your phone if you’re so inclined. Many apps are either free or at least come with a free trial, so you can give them a shot without feeling like you’re taking out some sort of sacred contract. Try it before you commit your entire life to it. That being said, don’t jump ship too quickly – which segues nicely into point #3.

3. Try it for at least a month.  If you’re like me, a sucker for the next “big thing”, realize right now that you may be spending a ridiculous amount of time trying and discarding new things without ever giving any of them a fair chance. By committing to your new system for a month, you’ll have a fair idea of whether or not you’ll be able to live with it, at least in some form (the italics on those last 3 words should key you into the fact that they lead nicely to my next point).

4. Think ‘outside of the box’, not ‘right out of the box’. As good as any system may be, chances are, there will be a few things about it that don’t quite work for you.

Love the in-your-face visibility of paper calendars, but wish you had more room to write notes or cross off items without making a mess? Try using a whiteboard. You can make up a calendar by using permanent marker or electrical tape to mark off the boxes as big as you want. Like sticky notes? Get some in different colors for different aspects of your life you’d like to organize and stick them on your calendar.

More of a techie? Try a program like Evernote, which allows you to keep all sorts of information (from your blacksmith’s phone number to your grandmother’s chocolate cake recipe) in one place. Evernote is available as a web-based application, and for all of your mobile devices as well. Note your eye doctor’s appointment on your phone, and it appears on your computer. You can even integrate Evernote and Google Calendars or iCal.

Good as they are, even whiteboards and Evernote won’t solve all of your organizational challenges, which brings us to the last point.

5. They call it “self” help for a reason. Face it, in a perfect world, we’d pick out the perfect organizing system, and hey presto – our lives would be perfectly organized! Yeah, well, I hate to be the one who breaks it to you, but it just doesn’t work that way.

One of the ways we seeking types tend to get in trouble is that we believe the unspoken hype that all advertising is known for – buy this product and you will get the guy/girl, win the game, have perfect children, or perfect teeth, or an immaculate house, or whatever. Fascinating concept, but then so are all the things in Harry Potter books (especially the one where Hermoine gets to be in two places in once … but I digress).

Point is, the biggest reason for failure of most organizing systems is lack of user input. Buying the system will not change your life! It’s a system, not a magic wand.

A system is only as good as its user.

Probably the best piece of advice I can give you is to keep the You in User (say it out loud, it’ll make sense). Whatever system you eventually adopt (and adapt), make sure you use it. Visit it every morning to plan your day. Give it a quick check in the evening to see what’s on for the next day (and get an idea of how well you did today). Stick a note on the fridge to remind you to use it if necessary, but do try your best to use the system for a month, then evaluate and tweak it or trash it.

If you find yourself trashing systems frequently, go back to the first step. Figure out what worked and what didn’t before you shop for the next one, and eventually, you’ll have it – the best system.  It may not be the best one for your mother, or your dentist or your best friend – but it will be the best one for you, and that’s what makes it perfect.