Making Life Easier – Part 4 – Personal Organization

This series, Making Life Easier, is about things often overlooked, such as the topic of this presentation, personal organization. When we don’t have a plan, it creates anxiety in us. Anxiety makes life harder. Getting organized is hard for some people, so we have some thoughts on getting organized the easy way in this presentation.

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Let’s begin today with a scripture. It’s a little scripture – small point, often overlooked. Let’s read it. The event is the arrival of John and Peter early on Sunday morning at the tomb where Jesus’ body had been left, as He died Wednesday evening – late Wednesday afternoon. It’s in John 20, verse 6.

John 20:6-7 – Then Simon Peter came, following him – that’s John – and went into the tomb. He saw the linen clothes lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen clothes, but folded up in a place by itself. 

So, a Christian is somebody who follows Christ. Isn’t that right? Or, as Paul said, “We imitate Christ.” So, what was He like? Well, He folded His face cloth before He left the tomb – one of the most momentous events in all of the history of humanity – and He has time to fold up His face cloth and leave it there. 

So, let me ask you this: How committed are you to being a neat person? Would you fold your face cloth like He did? And why would that be important to us, if it even is? Well, I’m going to show you two reasons why being organized personally, in that way that we live our lives, is of serious import to us, even if we don’t realize it. And we’re going to talk about how to be more organized the easy way. 

We’re working our way now through a series called Making Life Easier, so it has to be the easy way. That should be a clue for one of the reasons, by the way. This presentation is called Personal Organization. It is the fourth in the series, Making Life Easier. 

Question for you: What is God like? What’s He like? Well, David said that we can learn something about God by looking at the heavens. He said, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The ancients looked up at the heavens and realized there was organized movement going on out there – from the perspective of being on the earth. The Pleiades, for example, were low in the night sky horizon – at least, in North America – during the summer time. Later on in the year, they change position. Then, next summer, they’re back where they were to begin with. So, there’s an ordered progression of movement – something rotating around out there. 

Have you ever looked at a periodic chart? When we look at the planet, we see elements and compounds in what appears to be a random array. And yet, when we look at them on a periodic chart, we see that they can be put on a chart, that there is an amazing order that comes from an amazing organization that’s not immediately apparent. But God did that, and He did it in an organized way. 

Have you ever read in Revelation about the throne room of God? It has twenty-four thrones because there are twenty-four elders. They don’t amble in and wonder where they’re going to sit. God has made a place for them. And there are lots of important things there in God’s throne room – the original – the original – Ark of the Covenant. The one we talk about in the first five books of the Bible in Moses’ day was just a copy of what was up there in God’s throne room. And we know that there’s an altar there. And we’re told in Revelation the souls of the saints – Paul called them the spirits of just men made perfect – are kept there. So that’s a place of great honor. He didn’t cast them about or just stuff them in a corner or the crevices of the furniture. He has a place for them – and it’s under the altar, which is a very honored place. Did you know that God has stuff? Did you know that? He does. So, what does He do with it? Look with me in Psalms 56:8 – David said:

Psalms 56:8 – You have kept count of my tossings. David tossed and turned a lot at night because of all the problems that he had. And he said: My tears you put in your bottle. Are they not in Your book? Apparently, the tears of the saints and God’s people are very precious to Him. And He saves them in a bottle. Now, we know that’s metaphorical, but I think He wants us to go with the metaphor. So, He has places to put His stuff. 

Do you have a space in your house that’s just yours – maybe your office or your room? What’s it like right now? God’s an organized being. Are you? Another to thing to think about: God operates from a plan. He doesn’t just let life hit him in the face every morning. He has a plan. Of course, he doesn’t have to worry about every morning, because He’s outside of time. 

Think about the scroll in the book of Revelation that John cried over because nobody could open it – except for Christ, we found out. And He did. There were seven seals along this scroll. So, you’d unroll it for a while, read part of it, and you’d break a seal, and you could read some more. And then you’d have to go read until you got to another seal and open that. We are told it was written on both sides, too. So, a lot of information in there. When you got to the last seal, that was made up of seven trumpets. So then, you went through the seven trumpets, which was the last seal. When you got to the last trumpet, there were seven bowls. So, the scroll isn’t a stand-alone. It’s a part of a plan that God and His Son have been working since before time. And it’s an organized plan with steps to it. It’s a progression of things that are going to occur. This scroll is in it’s own place, ready to be used at just the right time. When it’s time for the trumpet to sound, He’s not going to have to look for it. 

So, there’s order in God’s work and the way He does things. Everything He is doing is hung on a framework that has been ready and waiting for engagement for a long, long time. In fact, you can’t really describe it with time, because it’s outside of it. It’s eternal. We know this because we’re told about it. It’s something you can bank on in the Bible. It’s there. So when it’s time for the events of the scroll to start happening, God is going to be ready with it to put it to use. 

Think about Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was prophesied many years before it happened that He would be killed in the midst of the week. That’s on Wednesday – right? The middle day of the week. Jesus and God didn’t figure that out when they got there. It wasn’t like they were going to just play it by ear – fake it. That was part of a plan. And we know that He was going to be there for three days and three nights from the beginning of the plan. Of course, there isn’t a beginning to it. It’s always been that He was going to be in the grave three days and three nights. And it wasn’t going to be parts of three days or parts of three nights. That idea was ours – not His. It’s three days and three nights – seventy-two hours. That’s the plan. 

Now, having a plan doesn’t mean that God is rigid. At the same time God has a plan, and He never changes, that doesn’t mean that He never changes His mind, or never uses a plan B, or never cuts anybody some slack. It means that His values, His nature, His character remain rock steady, but He can make changes to His plan and accommodations for special situations, human weakness, etcetera. He can be flexible. But He still has a plan at all times. It’s just that part of His plan is to flex as necessary to make the plan work. We should all learn something from that. Some people get so stuck in their plan they can’t make any accommodation – or, don’t want to, because it’s not part of the plan. Every good plan has to have some flex to it. 

I know that we like to think that once we’re in God’s Kingdom, all will be well. And I think, for the most part, that’s going to be true. But do we think that we will never have to learn anything in all eternity? I think even God learns things. Even though we have to learn things, I think much of what we need to learn for life with God is already before us for our learning, if we’ll take it up. 

One of those areas of learning is to be organized. Why would I think that? Well, besides the reasons I’ve already given, I think God’s laws teach us how to be like God. We’ve talked about this before. Whenever we break one of God’s laws, we end up feeling anxious about it or suffering in some way. And that’s a good thing. If you don’t get anxious about it, you have a real problem. But these penalties are built in reinforcers of good behavior if we’re smart enough to understand that.  

In my work as a counselor, most of the people I have known as clients suffer crippling anxiety and, at the same time, live a chaotic life, including planning and personal organization. Some of them can’t show up on time for sessions, they don’t know what they’re doing after their session – different things like that – sometimes even important things, like remembering to send their taxes in before April 15th. I knew somebody that did that – didn’t have a calendar. So that points to the need to store some of the things that we learn about outside our brain. And that points to a need for a system to capture those things, and then enter them in appropriate places in it. 

So, you might say, “Well, anxiety can cause a loss of focus and that makes it hard to be organized, so which comes first?” Well, it doesn’t matter. If a person is living in chaos, reducing the chaos by getting more organized will reduce their anxiety. And that’s been true in every case I’ve worked with. I’m not saying it will take all of it away. If the cause of their chaos was not anxiety, then that wouldn’t be true. But, most of the time, there’s a cyclical thing there that’s going on. One affects the other. 

So, I think, when we’re in God’s Kingdom, we will get on better if we have learned to be organized before we get there. We’ll be one step ahead. 

So, that was the first reason I wanted to sell you. It’s not unimportant and it is valuable spiritually. So, since God is an organized being, and since we are to strive to become like Him in this life, being more organized will help us draw closer to Him and help us be more like Him. Fitting in with God is always good for us. 

So, that’s the first concept. What comes next? I’ve already mentioned it several times, but an organized life is much easier to live if you organize it the right way and for the right reasons. That’s what this series is about – Making Life Easier. Disorganized life is an anxious life. An organized life is less anxious. 

Now, a word here about OCD, because I know that’s what everybody’s thinking about. We either are or have seen people for whom the urge to be organized is a terrible trial for them. Everything has to be organized so tightly that the doing of it becomes exhausting, burdensome, restrictive, detrimental to their relationships. It’s causing more problems than it’s producing good. That’s usually because people have obsessive-compulsive thinking. The obsession is the thought and the compulsion is the behavior. Now, Big Pharma pretends not to know what causes OCD and tells us that the only way to deal with it, conveniently, is their drugs. On the other hand, I and many other therapists have helped people get rid of compulsions and obsessions with therapy. And it usually goes back to something in their past that caused them a great deal of fear or apprehension. The only way to quell the fear was to keep everything under control. All the ducks had to be in a row or trouble would follow. 

There’s a movie that was made quite a few years ago now, called As Good As it Gets. It was a man who was a famous writer who had OCD – a really bad case of it. He was talking with some people that he’d gotten to know, he mentioned that when…. He was a great pianist and they were commenting on how good he was on the piano. And he made the comment: He said every time he made a mistake, as a child, his father would slap on the hands really hard. He had germ-phobia and he couldn’t step on cracks. He had to have everything organized at the table when he ate. He washed his hands…. He used one bar of soap every time he washed his hands – and he’d have to wash five or six times. So, six bars of soap and after one swipe, he’d throw them in the trash. So, that’s exhausting. 

It’s interesting, too, when I researched the next part of this presentation about how to be organized, I ran across a Website written by someone who was extremely organized. He mentioned that his closet was organized so that he could pick a matching pair of pants and shirt with his eyes closed. And he reasoned that this took pressure off him every morning because he didn’t really have to think too much about how to get dressed and have everything match. So, my question would be: Why would he get anxious about what to wear? It saves time to put all my shirts on one place on the closet rod and my pants all on another, and then pick what I want to wear, quickly consider whether they match or not, and them I’m ready to go. That kind of organizing is what we will be working on instead of OCD organization, where all the napkins have to folded just right, and the ones that were in the wash maybe go on the bottom and the other ones on top so that they all wear out at the same rate. I mean, that can be very frustrating for people. 

So, we’re going to create practical structures which take very little time. Organizers, who are anxiety driven, and are often so rigid that they become slaves to their closet, or their inbox, or their calendar. And that, in itself, produces just the opposite to what we want. It produces anxiety. We don’t want that. 

So, what we want is the second thing I want to sell you. If done practically, personal organization makes life easier, not harder. So, here we go with that. See if you can see it in your life as we go now. 

The first thing I want to talk about is containers – containers for stuff. I recently needed to do some drywalling in my house, and I had never done that before. So, I had to buy some tools and supplies for the job that I didn’t have. So, where was I going to put them? Well, some of the tools I already had, like an electric drill. And I have a shelf in my garage where I keep electric hand tools so I know right where that drill is. I can go get it at a moment’s notice. I also bought some caulking, but I didn’t have to put that anywhere special because I have a place for caulking that’s in my house where it won’t freeze, like things in the garage would. So that caulking went there, and I can find that in a hurry. But the tape, and the joint compound, and the drywall knives and the hock, well, that was new, and would probably not be needed very often once I got the job done. So, I got a cardboard box and I put a label on the top and one on the side, and both of them said, “Drywall.” And I put all of those items in that box and there was quite a bit of room left over, so that I can quickly look in the box and spot any of the tools in there, and I can quickly pick out just the right drywall knife, even though I might not have it for years. But there it sits on my shelf in a box labelled “Drywall.” Not rocket science – really simple – no money spent – and very little time. So, I have an area in my garage for stuff that has no place, too – or, I did, until I put my big saw on it. It used to be a card table that was there, and I’m using that for something else, so, my stuff that I don’t know what to do with it sits in the corner right now. I know that’s what that stuff is, so, even though it looks messy, eventually, when I get around to it, I’ll put all that stuff in some container where I will know what it is and I can get to it easily. All the supplies and the drywall tools I bought went in the corner at first. So, it’s sort of an inbox for my garage, if I could use that analogy. 

So, what other kinds of inboxes do we have?  Well, when we moved, I put all my stuff for my computers in my office. They were all in boxes – moving boxes. Then I put all my drawers and cabinets in there. While I was watching TV, I would go through my boxes of cables, and adapters, and power supplies, and all that stuff, and I sorted them into various drawers in my office. So, I could go through each drawer and wrap up all the cables and make it look all pretty, but why bother? I know where to look if I need one. It doesn’t have to be OCD. It just has to work. The whole point of organizing is so that you can get at what you need when you need it. So, every drawer in my office has specific stuff in it and I know where it is. I had a lot of fun doing it and I saw a lot of good movies while I was doing it, too. It felt good to get things in places where I could access them. I enjoyed that process, actually. 

Now, the word container is a key word in organization. You can put similar stuff in the same containers, and that can be a lot of different things. For example, a hard drive would be a container. You put things in it. Your inbox on your email is sort of like the dumping ground where everything goes until you put it where it belongs, or do whatever you’re going to do with it. A filing cabinet can be a container. A purse, a briefcase, a closet, a closet shelf, a closet rod, a wastebasket – we don’t call it the “round file” for nothing. A pocket calendar is a container where we put events that are coming up that we need to be at or do. A tray for eating utensils, with places for knives, forks and spoons in a drawer. A briefcase…. Do you have a large pile of unsorted stuff somewhere? Well, that’s okay, as long as you know that it’s unsorted and as long as you work at it. So, get some boxes, or whatever, and start tossing stuff in the right box, and pretty soon you’ll be able to find all that stuff when you need it. Or, you can throw it away, if you don’t need it. You can round file it. 

So, it’s such a simple concept, but so good for easy organization – very important. The Bible is a box of containers. There’s a box of proverbs, and box of psalms, and a box of letters by Paul…I mean, it’s organized. That’s how God does stuff. Notice how good it feels to take a mass of chaos and make order out of it while you’re watching a movie. It’s not that bad. It’s good actually. That’s what God did with the earth before He start creating life, wasn’t it? It says that the earth was in chaos and confusion, and He ordered it before He created the physical creation on the planet. 

So, that’s a pretty simple concept and it’s easy to do. It makes things so much better when you have a place to put things. And it doesn’t have to be a specific place on the shelf, or in the box, or in the drawer. As long as you know it’s a box of drywall tools, you’re good!

Now, some people like it to be more orderly and neat. I’m one of those – and my wife’s even more that way – and neither one of us are OCD. But it’s whatever your level of comfort is, and how much time you have, and whether you want to spend your time doing that or something else. 

Let’s talk about another kind of stuff that needs to be put in a container – appointments. When I was in high school, I just had a three-ring binder, and I have a tab for each class, and behind each tab where the class stuff was, was the latest assignment on a piece of paper. I think they call those things agendas now. We had to make our own up when I was in high school. But when I went to college, I soon found out that I had more to keep track of than I did when I was in high school. So, I wound up carrying a pocket calendar. It opened up to just a little bit bigger than two file cards facing each other – and that was a whole month. I had enough room there to put down my appointments and things. So, I knew where everything that I needed to do at a certain time on a certain date was listed on that calendar. Simple. 

Let’s talk now about something else. Right now, in our society in the world, something is happening that has never happened before. People have more stuff coming at them than they can easily handle all the time – email, texts, social media. Even printed material is so much easier to produce that we ae flooded with it. And on top of that, we can get places faster. If you think about all the places Jesus went in His three-and-a-half-year ministry, and you look at a map of Israel, and put a push pin in each one of those cities. We could cover all that territory in probably two days or less now in a car. So all of that compacting and compressing of events causes a lot of stress. 

So, I’m going to show you a way to deal with all of that in a simple way. You’re going to need some tools: 

  • You’re going to need a pocket calendar for appointments. 
  • You’re going to need a pocket notebook for stuff that you can’t do right now, because you’re on the road, or in class, or you’re watching a movie and you just thought of an idea – so, all of that stuff for “as soon as I can” stuff.  You need to make a doctor’s appointment. Well, that’s probably going to be a phone call and putting something on your calendar. You can put that in your pocket notebook. And that can become an inbox when you get ready to sort stuff out. 
  • You’re also probably going to need a notebook for projects. A project is something that has more than one action to it, like making an appointment to see the doctor – that’s actually a project. You have to look up the doctor’s phone number. You have to call him. You have to get a date. You have to put it on a calendar. So, there are four things. Some people do call the doctor, make an appointment, then don’t write it down, so they forget when it was. So, yeah, that’s a project. 
  • You need a filing system of some sort. That can be a file box, or a file cabinet. Since I store a lot of stuff on my computer, and since my wife has four file boxes in her office, all I need is a simple plastic file box on my office table. Then you’re going to need one box, or a box in a file drawer, and you’re going to need forty-three folders. And here’s what that’s about: twelve of those folders are going to be labeled on their tab for each month of the year – so, January, February…twelve. Then the remaining thirty-one are going to be called one to thirty-one – they’re going to be the days of the week in each month. If it’s January 1st, you would put all those folders in your file under January. Then after January 1st is over, you take one out and you stick it under February. So, you see how it works? Every day, you move a folder back to the next month. So, what’s that good for? Well, let’s say you’re going through your inbox, and you find a utility bill that needs to be paid by the end of the month. So, you’re going to pay it two weeks early, because the postal service is so slow – and you still pay by mail. So, you put in the 15th day of the month, and then you forget about it, because all the file folders from the 1st, the 2nd, the 3rd are going into the next month. On the 15th, that folder will be in front – right behind the current month. And you’ll look in there and you’ll see all the stuff that you need to do that day to be on time. And you will not have to think about it at all until it’s time to do it. 

Now, I’m going to tell you…this is going to be tricky for me. I don’t know if I can pull this off, but I’ve got to have a chart in front of me. It’s like a diagram. It changed my life – it’s so simple. It changed my life. At the top, there’s a big square and it says, “Inbox.” That could a box in your office of stuff you haven’t filed yet. It could be your email inbox. It could be Post-It notes on the refrigerator your mate has left for you. Or, it could be stuff that you wrote down in your pocket notebook. So, you need to have all that together and you need to look through it. As you look at each item that you pull our of your inbox, you ask this question: Can I take action on this? If the answer is no, one of three things is going to happen to that: It is going to be put in the round file, like all those ads you get in the mail from the big-box stores. You just put that in the round file. Okay? Or, if it’s something that you might want to consider later – like a utility bill – then you file it in the appropriate thing in your file. You can put it in the “trash,” you can put in the “some day” category – whatever day that is, you can put it in there – or, it might be something like the results from your annual physical blood test, like I got in the mail recently. That goes in “reference,” because I might want to look at that later and compare it with next years. So, “reference,” “some day,” and “trash.” That’s it for all the no’s. Most of the stuff that comes into your inbox is going to go into one of those three things – the biggest one being “trash.” At least, that’s the way mine is. That includes email – you get so much junk mail. Trash in email talk is junk. That means that once that email address is in your junk folder, you’ll never see another one from that address again. So, that can be good. 

Now, what happens if is something that you want to take action on? Well, here are things to think about. Number one, if it will only take two minutes to do it, do it right now. It’s an email from a friend about having lunch on Tuesday. Well, it won’t take you two minutes to answer that, so you do it. But, if it needs more than two minutes, or it’s more than one step – in other words, it’s a project that needs to be planned – several things can happen to it. It can go into your forty-three folders thing – to be planned later. For example, you’re going to go shopping on Monday for groceries. Before you do that, you know that you’re going to have to look and see what needs to be replaced on your shelves, and you need to figure out when you’re going to go do it and put it on your calendar – so you don’t wind up trying to shop when you should be at the doctor’s. But what if it’s something about a note on your refrigerator from your mate that says, “We just paid off the house, so now we have money to start planning our new home.” Oh, okay. So, planning to build a new home – that’s a project, right/ So, when are you going to start planning that? That’s a project. You might need to call your wife about when the two of you can sit down – or your husband – and talk about what you want it to look like and start formulating a plan for it. Talk to her, get a date, put it in your forty-three folders – put a sheet a paper with “Plan house” in your forty-three folders thing. 

Here’s what you do…I kind of got side-tracked a little bit there. But, if it’s, “Yes, I can do something about it,” and it’s going to take longer than two minutes, you also have three choices. It’s possible you might need to delegate it to someone. That would either mean a phone call right now, which would take less than two minutes, or you might want to do it later this afternoon, in which case, you would put a note about it in your forty-three folders for today. So, you can delegate things. You can also defer things, like we just did there by putting in forty-three folders. And the third thing is what’s called, “Next Action.” What’s that? Well, that’s sort of “as soon as I can” thing, but it’s usually related to a project. Most of the things that we do in our lives – if they’re worth anything – are things that require more than one step. And they probably require some planning. So, you put a note about that in your forty-three folders when you think you might have time to actually start thinking about it. 

Every Friday I want to clean my coffee machine. Don’t ask me what kind of machine it is. It’s not a part of the program here. So, I take a sheet of paper and I can write, “Clean coffee machine” on it, and I can put it in “Friday.” And once I clean my coffee machine, I can take that – not in “Friday,” but let’s say Friday is on the 3rd of March. I put in the 3rd. Then, on the 3rd, I clean the coffee machine, and I know that seven days later is going to be the 10th, so I put in the 10th. So, I only have to make one sheet of paper and just keep moving it every time after I’ve cleaned my coffee machine to the next week. So, every Friday, when I look in there, I’ll see a reminder…”Oh, it’s time to clean my coffee machine.” Don’t have to think about it until it’s time to do it. Never see it. Very stress relieving. 

Also, “next actions” includes things like planning a vacation, or building a house, or ordering groceries. Another way that you can handle this – and sometimes, it’s not just a huge project – it might be a check list, like you go through your cupboards, “Oh, I need more coffee,” “I need more cream,” “I need more butter,” so you make a checklist – or you have a checklist of things you buy all of the time. You can reproduce it, and check stuff off really fast, and put it in the day when you’re going shopping in your forty-three folders. 

So, I don’t know if that gets the point across, but if you think about it, every single thing that ever comes before you can be put in that system and systematically managed in a few minutes. If you do that, most of your action-related stress will just go away. Everything will come to you when you need to do it automatically without having to remember anything. This approach is from David Allen’s book, The Art of Getting Things Done, which was a game changer. He wrote this book because he knew that people were in deep water over so much to do that they just didn’t feel like they could ever get it done. He created this approach that has kind of revolutionized modern business work – and personal stuff, too. There are whole websites and computer programs that function off of this project-based getting things done approach. The one I use, which is a Mac only program, is called Omni Focus. Another one that I know is good and much simpler than Omni Focus is called Things. Both of those are on the Mac Store. And I don’t know anything about any of those things that you can do with a PC-based application, because I don’t use that, but they’re out there, too. And I will say that, if you use a computer to do all of this stuff, make sure it transfers the stuff to your phones, so that you can take your phone with you and have your marching orders for the day on your phone and not have to fire your computer up if you don’t want to. It makes it very helpful. If you do that, all of this gets way easier than a forty-three-folder system, which is just really simple already. 

So, wrapping this up now, these things are simple to do. You don’t have to use technology to do it. Although, if you like technology, and you are adept at it, it will be easier for you to keep track of things. But, if you take a few simple steps, your life can be way less stressful and easier and more satisfying for you. Every morning when I get up, I get a cup of coffee and my phone, and I start planning my day with incoming. And in thirty minutes, all my inboxes are empty, and I know not only what I need to do now, and for the rest of the day, but for my whole life. It’s all there. But I don’t have to look at it until it comes to me, because everything is going to show up on my schedule when it needs to. And I can know that I’m being a bit more like God every day that I practice this kind of self-ordering. 

Look with me in 1 Corinthians 14:33 – a simple statement. Paul said:

1 Corinthians 14:33 – God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. 

If we can pull that off – if we can make order out of the confusion of daily life – the chaos in our lives – we can be people of peace. And we can be more relaxed and have more energy to be friendly to others, and considerate of them, and more empathic, and be better examples of God’s way of living in the world.