Being Organized: Is It Really Necessary?

“Divide the fire, and you will sooner put it out.” – Publilius Syrus (Moral Sayings, first century B.C.)

Somebody wrote me the other day asking if I “really do all the organizational stuff” that I recommend. “I don’t think I’d have time for anything else,” he said.  The answer is “yes.” I do. And I consider doing that “organizational stuff” the most valuable part of my day.

There are countless studies showing that successful people (a) have formal objectives, (b) review those objectives regularly, and (c) plan their time accordingly. Not every successful executive I know does this. But as someone who has managed businesses both by reacting and by planning, I know the difference.

If I had to guess, I’d say I am — honestly — 50% to 100% more productive now than I ever was before. Not in terms of the actual number of things I get done, but certainly in terms of the number of important things I get done. I am now — after so many years — finally getting to some of the Important-but-not-Urgent objectives that I had been putting off for 20 years. And I’m doing it without neglecting any of the Urgent stuff. In fact, I’m better now at getting the Urgent stuff done before it becomes Urgent.

I owe it all to planning — to forcing myself to take the time to think and plan. To resisting the urge to jump right into the chaos that awaits me every day.

If you don’t think and plan, you will work at a frantic pace, solving problems and initiating programs, always moving and ever stressful. You will, handle the stuff that comes your way, feeling like a martyr, but you will always have a feeling that there is not enough time for the really important things you want to accomplish in your life.

When you lead an unstructured business life, daily emergencies take precedence. You operate in a constant state of crisis and you can — for a scarily long time — have the illusion that you are running things, when in reality what is happening is that things are running you.

Unless you make a change and spend some time every day (for every week and every month and every year) thinking and rethinking your priorities and figuring out what is worth your time and attention and what is not.

In “How to Become CEO,” Jeffrey J. Fox recommends spending an hour a day “planning, dreaming, scheming, thinking, calculating. Review your goals. Consider options. Ponder problems. Write down ideas. Mentally practice your sales call or big presentation. Figure out how to get things done.”

The ETR program doesn’t take an hour a day. Since you are working from a five-year plan, you spend (1) a full day every year planning the next 364 days, (2) about two or three hours once a month establishing monthly goals and organizing your daily follow-up files, (3) an hour each week establishing your weekly goals, and (4) no more than 15 minutes every morning organizing your day.

Yes, you can accomplish a great deal without planning — if you are ambitious, hard-working, and smart. But you’ll get even more done if you spend time planning.

Give it a try. You risk only 15 minutes a day.