The Art of Organization: Using Efficiency to Create Time, Clarity and the Life We Want to Live

by flowers on January 18, 2011 · 12 comments

Six Months Old

Perhaps you think it’s been quiet around here because I’ve been blinded by the cuteness that is six month old Nila Bindu. And while we do spend countless moments adoring her and the infinite supply of joy she brings our family, we’ve actually been very busy doing something else. Something serious. Seriously amazing.

We’ve been organizing!

For real.

And not the organizing where we say we’re organizing and merely repeat old habits as we move around important things and make duplicate lists.

No way. We aren’t going there again. After all it’s a new year and I’m still dancing around my kitchen singing Rock Steady at the top of my lungs. This time we brought in the big guns because we are super serious about supporting our family on our own terms.

Are we crazy or can we do this?

I started to think: maybe choosing to parent three school-free kids, managing a home and rental property, running a business, launching another, managing my side birth gigs and volunteering in my community might be too much. Maybe something had to give.

Or maybe not.

Maybe we just need to organize ourselves in order to fully be present when we’re dealing with each situation at hand. I don’t want to be worrying about business while I’m painting with Koala and I don’t need to be trying to remember play dates while I’m working on my new website. The elements of my life are actually exactly what I want–I just needed to learn how to better manage it all.

Remember when I wrote that post over at Steady Mom about kids using real tools. I said something about giving kids real tools gives them the respect that their work [play] is important. After all, how can you dig for dinosaur fossils with a plastic shovel? This is similar in a way. Stone and I need to take ourselves seriously and we need real tools in order to do it. For years a rinky dink filing system and a few desk drawers were enough, but we’ve outgrown our system. We need help from someone who knows how to run something as big, crazy and important as our family.

Organizational guru helps family conquer the world!

Enter David Allen. Organizational guru and efficiency strategist to the likes of LL Bean, The US Navy and The Ford Foundation. I figured if he could whip their butts into shape we are in good shape. Despite his super mainstream suit-and-tie work history I found his logic easily transferable to our unconventional lifestyle.

I consider “work,” in its most universal sense, as meaning anything that you want or need to be different than it currently is. Many people make a distinction between “work” and “personal life,” but I don’t: to me, weeding a garden or updating my will is just as much “work” as writing this book or coaching a client. All the methods and techniques in this book are applicable across the life/work spectrum–to be effective, they need to be.

See. This guy is cool. He’s already got the whole unworking concept down.

Not to mention his whole “mind-like-water” zen analogy:

What if you could dedicate fully 100 percent of your attention to whatever was at hand, at your own choosing, with no distraction?
It is possible. There is a way to get a grip on it all, stay relaxed, and get meaningful things done with minimal effort, across the whole spectrum of your life and work. You can experience what the martial artists call a ‘mind like water”…. It’s a condition of working, doing, and being in which the mind is clear and constructive things are happening.


I bought his book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” back before the holidays. I read the intro, got really excited and tucked it away until the new year so that we could dedicate some time to it.

Getting Things Done

At first it was thrilling, then it was confusing and then we experienced a breakthrough where not only did the system make sense, but the knitty gritty of our lives was in it. Now we’re feeling absolutely enlightened. I’m taking my WHOLE life out of my head and putting it into a system that I can trust (and maybe more importantly a system that makes sense and works together). This leaves my mind to do what it does best: live an amazingly creative and turned ON life.

I’m sold.

What about you? Do you have an organizational guru or are you a superwomen who designs their own system?

(I have no connection to David Allen–I’m just geeking out on his amazing book.)

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

renee @ FIMBY January 18, 2011 at 8:52 am

Amazing. I am so excited to get this book for myself because baby, am I going to need it! This post just rocked. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this. I really need to get ready with something like this for the next stage of our life – full of meaningful work, done together with my husband, sharing our home with our children – everyday.


flowers January 18, 2011 at 11:32 am

Renee, let me know how you like it. I feel like we are in similar situation and so far we’re feeling really enthused about the way it is helping us propel forward. I’ll be curious to hear what you think.


Rachael January 18, 2011 at 11:08 am

First of all? Little Ninu? Is gorgeous! When did her eyes turn blue? Or maybe they’re hazel?

My organizational guru is in fact David Allen. Though I don’t follow his system exactly. Though I’ve realized that my systems for tracking everything need to be more like his. I found him via Merlin Mann, who may have started out as a GTD blogger but (these days, anyway) doesn’t write about organization so much as caring about your creative work. (I also found Seth Godin via Merlin Mann, BTW.) And another book that I like is It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, because the author, Marilyn Paul, deals directly with the psychological aspects of disorganization and the negative feelings that can come up when getting organized.

It would be nice to have an anthem like “Rock Steady.” No anthem over here. It’s only the eighteenth of the year and I feel as though I’m mired again in the same old same old same old. Meh. This, too, shall pass. But first: I must meet today’s deadlines.


flowers January 18, 2011 at 11:27 am

Rachael, we woke up on January 1st, after spending all this time envisioning what we wanted to do differently in the new year, and had the thought: Oh it’s just another regular day of being the same person. lol!

Having something that is actually changing our regular habits is helping to feel like we’re moving forward. Also, we’re sitting in a precarious position where we *have* to make it work right now. We’ve taken the leap of faith and it’s sink or swim and gosh darn it we’re going to swim!

Seth Godin is another one of my heroes. He’s amazing.

Thanks for the book rec :-)


erin January 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm

oh hillary! i LOVE this!!!

doing some major organizational work over here too — mostly infastructure kinds of things…putting up shelves…clearing out closets…moving our pantry.

also exploring evernote as a way to capture my thoughts for my various projects when i’m on the go, which i learned about by reading the e-book simple blogging. (loved the book by the way!)

i have in fact come up with most of my organizational systems on my own. (not because i’m super woman but just because i have a really hard time adjusting my life to fit other people’s systems.) but often i find when i consult the gurus they teach exactly (or something very close to) what i came to myself!




L.J. January 19, 2011 at 12:29 pm

What a beautiful picture! She’s absolutely lovely!

There must be something in the air because I’ve been in a total organization mode since the beginning of the New Year. In my very indepdent way, I’ve just been forging my own sense of organization. I even dreamed about organizing my office last night!

Physically, I’ve tacked the kitchen, re-organized it, cleaned out cupboards and the pantry. My office is next. And I’m excited to get started and make better use of the space.

Mentally, I’ve started to re-organize my time with the kids and time to write and do the things I need to do for myself. I’ve dropped some things, added some things and feel good about a new sense of organization in our natural rhythm.

Good luck with your organizing!


Amber January 21, 2011 at 12:36 am

Your daughter has the most AMAZING hair. Sigh.

I have added this book to my Amazon wishlist. I’m all about creating space this year, and I’ll use any tool I can get my hands on. Right now I’m kind of going it alone, and it’s going well, but I could see that having some help or a system would be really useful.


Juliana January 29, 2011 at 7:26 am

I need to be organized! And I’m SO not lately. I do agree with the author that being mindful about projects and work and anything really is the way to do it.


Mandy Mom February 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Doing some blog hopping and really enjoyed this post! We are forever organizing it seems (I suppose that’s life with four kids). We do weekly purges… toys, clothes, papers, stuff in the garage and attic. Stuff piles up quickly! Organization, in my opinion, requires a lot of maintenance, but it’s totally worth it. One day a week (or 10-20 minutes each day) of organization “therapy” really helps keep the house cleared of clutter and stuff we don’t need. :)


flowers February 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Thanks Mandy! It’s great to have you. The system we implemented is definitely about the upkeep, but it’s so worth it!


jenna March 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm

congratulations! your post has made me actually OPEN & begin to READ david allen’s book, “getting things done” — which i’ve had so long that the pages are a little yellow! i am a woman/wifey/stayathomemama/photographer and never really gave that system a chance, thinking it was too “corporate”, dry and confusing. your post has shown me that i can incorporate it into my ideal of “whole family living”…. thank you for writing this up. i’d love for you to show your papers and actual system, to get a visual —– not the personal stuff of course :P


April Perry November 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm

That photo of your papers around your sleeping baby is classic! Great post about GTD. Thanks for connecting with me on Simple Mom!


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