This was published January 2014 on the blog site of the International Coach Federation.
The hardest thing about getting rid of the clutter in my papers and files is having to think clearly about how to organize them. That and my own resistance to the task itself. Of course resistance often takes the form of confusion. Basically the whole thing annoys me in a sort of “If I new where to put this stupid piece of paper I would have put it there by now ” kind of way.
I both feel too old to fight with who I am and I truly want to be able to find things easily. I have been working on how to overcome the clutter while honoring who I am. I have turned to Chaos Theory for help.
Chaos Theory is basically the geometry of the natural world. Fractals, organic growth, and the order in apparent disorder. According to Wikepedia, chaos theory describes the behavior of certain nonlinear dynamical systems. In ecology, chaos theory can explain how small random events may affect ecosystems in an unpredictable way. [This explains how my office becomes a mess.]
Among the characteristics of chaotic systems is the sensitivity to initial conditions (air moved by the butterfly wing creates a typhoon; the unfiled papers become stacks that fall over). As a result of this sensitivity, the behavior of systems that exhibit chaos appears to be random even though the system is deterministic. Examples of such systems include the atmosphere, the solar system, plate techtonics and apparently my office.
Embracing Chaos means I get to let go of linear order. I once bought Paper Tiger filing software and spent days cataloging and entering all my papers in a computer program so I could find stuff by word search. “Where the hell is my Focusing Script.” was answered by entering it either by ‘focusing’ or by ‘Gendlin’ and VOILA there was the information that it was in file #437. But I hadn’t put the Focusing Script back the last time I used and it was really in one of the several stacks near my desk. Paper Tiger and other linear order systems only work if you put files back.
I next developed a filing system that follows order based a) physical location– e.g. where I might reach to look for something (as in “What do I want in my desk file drawer, the locked filing cabinet, or under my bed?”) and b) conceptual order– e.g. how do I think of my business, and how do I think of my life? (as in “I this something I do myself such as coach my private clients? Something my business offers like the Recovery Coaching Circle? Or something I do for fun like knitting).
This location and concept system was better because I can change the order of my files and boxes as my business and life change and grow. For instance, I now have people who do some of the teaching in my Recovery Coaching school, and they expect me to know where the curriculum is and to be able to access it easily. It is intuitively clear that the stuff within arms reach should be handy and pertinent things I use often. Other stuff can live in the filing cabinet several steps away, in the office closet, down stairs or under my bed. While this latest system is better, it still only works if I put things back. Which left on my own, I don’t.
My latest effort has been to hire someone who will gather things up and get them ready to be put back where they belong. I have come to accept that I will always believe that I have better things to do than tidy up. I swear that I am better than I used to be (ask Paul– he lives with me) but I am still not good enough to meet my own office standards. My hired help puts away my books, takes the socks to my bedroom (how do socks end up on floor of my home office?) and collects the papers to file. I actually put them away with her standing there. If we do it once a week it only takes about 15 minutes to file and then she dusts and vacuums. This is regular attention to small things is working quite well assuming we do it every week. I love the way my office looks when we are done. The chaos is really decreasing.
Chaos Theory reminds me to be disciplined in small ways based on the sensitivity of initial conditions. If I take the time to put away the 6 or 7 things that have appeared on my desk today, (which I will do if my desk is otherwise clean) I won’t be depressed by the site of it tomorrow, and by having regular help, I am not overwhelmed at having 30 or 50 things to put away by the end of the week. Now that I am attending to the small stuff regularly (with or without help) I no longer go into fear-based procrastination to avoid the whole mess. Most of all, I love that by embracing Chaos Theory I have found find a natural order that works for me and my business.