I am not a neat freak. In fact, the title of this little article is extremely descriptive of my natural tendencies. I have no patience for those who waste valuable time making sure all the paper clips in their desk are in perfect order, all the pencils point the same direction, and any papers are stacked as neatly and squarely as when they came in the original ream from the office supply store.
I also am fully aware that some messy people are, in fact, reasonably organized. I remember hearing the story of a school that was trying to teach its students to be organized and had significant trouble getting each of the students to have all of their papers arranged by section in a notebook. An expert came in and said, “Well, what’s the point?” She was told, “We want them to have their papers available when we need them.”
“How about this?” said the expert. “We’ll make a rule that each child has to have their paper available within one minute of the time it is requested.” To the surprise of those in the school, many of the “messy” students were able to locate their papers rapidly and successfully.
Having said that, I have learned over the years that it does not pay me to be messy. I have discovered that I am messy because I am lazy. I have further come to understand that my laziness and its attendant messiness costs me time. When I was first married, I left my clothing in piles in various places in the house. For many years now, I’ve been careful to put everything away before I go to bed and take out the clothes I am to wear the next morning. My mind is clearer in the evening and it saves me time in the morning when I am typically in more of a hurry.
Here are a few thoughts that have helped me in my effort to be less messy which I hope will be a help to you as well.
1. Try to handle each piece of paper only once. Since I know the paper needs to be filed, why do I place it in a drawer so that it can be forgotten—only to require me to go through a jumbled mess when I need it? If I put it in the drawer, I’ll still have to take it out and put it in a file later. My laziness—my tendency to not want to put it where it belongs now but to postpone that activity until later—costs me time and makes me messy.
2. Take care of brief, simple tasks as you become aware of them rather than “saving them up” to the point that they become burdensome.
Our people are very kind and generous to me. At Christmas time, many of them give me individual gifts. For years, I would keep a careful list of all the gifts on a card; later in my Palm Pilot and eventually on my phone. I would sit down the week after Christmas and dictate letters to all of them. It became a chore! Instead of being grateful, I now looked at all those letters I had to dictate as a burden. For the last several years, I’ve tried to dictate the thank you notes on the first working day after I’ve been given a gift. I enjoy thinking of the kindness of the people, they get their notes more quickly, and I don’t have a big job waiting for me. This principle is also helpful regarding other thank you notes. As soon as I am in the office after a kindness is done for me, I find it helpful to pick up my recorder and dictate my expression of gratitude.
3. Do unpleasant tasks immediately (this instruction can form an acronym that spells DUTI. I remember by saying to myself, “Do your duty.”) Maybe you’re not like me but here’s my tendency. I come in Monday morning and make a list of all the things I have to do. Some of the things are simple, some are enjoyable. I have to clear my desk. I have to answer the mail. I have to make some phone calls. I have to go over the attendance and offering from the previous Sunday. I have to dictate some letters. Others will be more complex and difficult. I have to study for a sermon. I have to spend some time poring over the possibilities for restructuring some part of our ministry.
My tendency is to do the easy things first. This gives me a nice, quick collection of checks on my to do list. Most of us like checking things off a list; I like it so much I have, on many occasions, written down things to do that I have already done so that I may check them off!
The trouble is that because I postpone the more difficult and time-consuming matters, I sometimes leave them undone. Not only that, but they’re always weighing on me to some degree or other. They’re always in the back on my mind; I’m always thinking about what I have to do. I have found that by Doing Unpleasant Tasks Immediately, I am able to accomplish much more. I get the things I like least out of the way first, enjoy the rest of the day better, and work more efficiently.