Read an Excerpt
By Stephanie Winston
Warner BooksCopyright © 2006 Stephanie Winston
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOn Getting It All Together
More than once you may have felt that someone wasn't looking when your "life management" card was dealt out. You are intelligent, you are a likable person, but how can you explain the fact that you are always running late and, all too frequently, seem to be drowning in busywork? Although the following sad tales may not apply to you in all their particulars, there is probably something here that will cause you to grimace and sigh, "Oh God, it's me."
Lisa, a twenty-eight-year-old lawyer in Far Hills, New Jersey, stumbles out of bed at 7:30 a.m., stomach churning in panic, because that important appointment is set for 8:30 and the alarm didn't go off. Lisa dashes out of the house disheveled because there was no time to dress and groom properly and because the blouse that goes with the tweed suit is missing as usual.
Breakfast is coffee because Lisa has no time, naturally, for a real meal. But even under less harassed circumstances breakfast is a pain; who can ever find the eggs, which are invariably hidden at the back of the refrigerator? And pulling the only decent frying pan out from under the pile of pots in the cabinet hardly seems worth the trouble.
As usual, Lisa misses the eight o'clock bus-which she generally does about half thetime-stumbles onto the next one ten minutes later, and, in her disheveled state, spends her fifteenminute ride to work attempting to riffle through her briefcase searching for the crucial document for her meeting.
Home again. Cooking a meal seems unendurable when utensils are piled into every nook and cranny of the kitchen. So once again, Lisa opens a can of tuna or orders a pizza.
Early evening might be a good time to get started on the income tax, but who knows what deductions to claim when the canceled checks have disappeared?
At last, a warm, relaxing bath to soothe away the tensions of the day. But relaxation turns to rage with the realization that all the towels are in the laundry.
And so to bed; with muscles taut, nerves jangling, and the sinking feeling that the whole thing is going to happen all over again tomorrow.
Bill Marshall is in advertising. You can count on late nights for Bill twice or three times a week. He frequently has to take clients out for drinks or dinner.
His wife, Diane, an office manager for an import-export firm, is generally able to make it home to relieve the babysitter by around 5:30. For Diane it's all go, go, go as soon as she walks in the door. She generally comes home to find beds unmade, homework not yet done, and the children clamoring for dinner. While screaming at the children to finish their homework, she's trying to get the dinner fixings together. While the stew is cooking, she's running up to make the beds and screaming for the children to bring the laundry for folding.
Finally, Diane is able to grab the kids and sit them down for stew at 7:00 p.m. Next comes another screaming session to get them undressed and into the bath, while she does the dishes. At which point, Bill walks in. He's had a hard day. He goes first to his room and calls out, "Honey, the bed isn't made!" Then he comes back, pours out some white wine, sits down, and says, "Hi, sweetie. How was your day?"
Not a good question. Can this family be helped? Pam and Steve Michaels faced a daunting, and unexpected, shift in their family life when their six-year-old twins, Rebecca and Daniel, were given a computer for Christmas by Grandpa.
Pam said, "We never thought we would become one of those families that iMac would divide. Because Steve and I both have busy careers, we have always made time to take the kids on nature hikes, to play with them, and, above all, to read to them- real books.
"Yet we are beginning to see our children choose their headsets and modems over spending time together as a family." My clients, and more and more families, are facing the daunting task of competing with multibillion-dollar tech corporations for their children's time and attention.
More than a sociological issue, this tech absorption plays havoc with the organizational needs of family life.
If these stories apply to you at all, you must wonder what causes your wheels to spin in this way. The answer is complex, but there is nothing in your stars or your nature that dooms you to live out your days chafed and affronted on every side by such indignities. On the contrary, your innate capacity to organize is powerful indeed, but for a variety of complex reasons that instinctive capability was short-circuited. The causes are primarily psychological, stemming from childhood-not to mention the constant challenge of coping with the mechanics of a highly sophisticated, complex world that our grandparents never knew.
You are capable, however, of setting your own life in order. Your inner drives toward order and clarity are much more powerful than the forces of chaos. Consider, for example, a major traffic circle and the experience of crossing it on foot or in a car. In your intrepid passage from one side to the other, whether as a pedestrian or a driver, you are spontaneously organizing a good deal of complex information: the velocity of the cars, their different angles of approach, their interrelationships with one another and with you. Managing this intricate situation signifies that you are highly successful at processing an assortment of information into a pattern that makes sense, the basic definition of organization.
Given the premise that we are all born with the inherent capacity to organize, what happened? I believe that many people get trapped in a sort of time warp in which they live out their present lives responding to forces that were in operation many years ago-as much as ten, twenty, thirty, or more years. The majority of people who are consistently (as opposed to only occasionally) troubled by the issue of order and disorder and by the logistics of managing their lives are still, as adults, often living out guilty defiance of a childhood authority-usually a parent.
The process occurs in roughly the following way: An authority figure teaches a very young child that there is a way things "ought" to be. There is a "right" way to do things, and a "good" person is "disciplined" and "orderly." This attitude toward life further affects the child when, as usually happens, the question of his or her own room becomes an issue. The constant refrain "Terry, clean up your room" becomes as maddening as fingernails scratching a blackboard. The child interprets this invasion of territory as an attack on his or her identity and autonomy. Sometimes this sense of assault is nothing more than imagination, but in many cases the child correctly senses a parent's need to control.
At some point defiance begins. The young person digs in his or her heels and mentally says, "I won't. I won't be orderly or disciplined." So he or she proceeds to make life chaotic in the belief that order means entrapment or loss of identity, and therefore disorder means freedom and affirmation of the self.
There is another factor that complicates this false assumption: guilt. As children or adolescents few people can defy their parents with a clear conscience. So even while one part of the personality may be affirming itself through defiance, the other part is saying, "I must be wrong, I must be bad."
The resulting burden exacts a heavy cost. A person moves from the imprisonment of someone else's rules to the imprisonment of a continuing functional disorder and, even more disheartening, to the deeper entrapment of a conflict in his or her own mind. In order to avoid this dilemma, people frequently assume conscious styles of living that seem to justify disorderliness.
One of these styles is "busy, busy, busy." Using this technique, a person becomes so frantically active with so many responsibilities, activities, problems, and excursions that there just isn't a moment to pull it all together.
There is a distinction between "busy, busy, busy" as a style and the genuine overbooking that is so much a reality of our time-the subject of Oprah Winfrey shows and "getting it all together" articles. The difference is that the first is a "look" and the second is an organizing reality. But sometimes that reality can be managed just a bit more efficiently so as to turn legitimate claims into more of a pleasure and less of a burden.
Another style, not quite so widespread, is "free spirit." The free spirit is usually vaguely "artistic" or "creative," and thinks of organizing as the dullest possible activity for a person engaged in higher pursuits.
The most characteristic way people cope with the emotional bind of the order-versus-disorder conflict is by developing the attitude of "compliance/defiance." Many of my clients, for example, desperately want to be "right." They yearn to have their lives organized the way they "ought to be." That is compliance-the conscious acceptance of parental standards. Accordingly, they set specific goals of an exaggerated precision that would shame a computer scientist. Then, because these goals are unrealistic and often irrelevant to any genuine practical need, the person says, "The hell with it. I can't do it and I won't." That is defiance.
Guilty defiance no longer has much effect on your parents, but it serves effectively to block you from true freedom-true freedom, in the context of this book, meaning a system of real order, intrinsic to the person you are, that liberates rather than constricts.
The specific elements of real order include a physical environment that is easy to move around in, easy to look at, and easy to function in; a simple technique for dealing effectively with the volume of e-mail, paperwork, and money business that we all must confront; some control over the incessant claims on our time; and the development of a satisfying response to the fact that time is life, time is often money, and time is limited. This world takes shape as you develop a sensitivity to your own needs. In fact, this entire book is based on the proposition that there is no "correct" order, no right way to do things-whether setting up a retrieval system or a workroom or planning time-unless it is correct for you.
In other words, order is not an end in itself. Order is whatever helps you to function effectively-nothing more and nothing less. You set the rules and the goals, however special, idiosyncratic, or individualistic they may be. Then, using this book as a guideline, you can define your particular purposes and set up the practical systems to implement them. Figuring out your goals and purposes begins in the next chapter.
Excerpted from Getting Organized by Stephanie Winston Copyright © 2006 by Stephanie Winston. Excerpted by permission.
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