How to Help Someone Else Get Organized – Without the Headaches

Copyright 2006 Karin Vibe Rheymer Stewart

A question I often get from clients or people who call me is how to organize one of their partners, co-workers or subordinates who, they say, is “really messy.”

The first question I ask is this: Is that person truly disorganized, or is it your perception? In other words, does this person always (or almost always) meet his/her deadlines? Is s/he almost always on time? Can s/he find a document almost immediately when requested?

If you answer yes to those questions, this person IS organized, whatever the appearances. Telling him or her that s/he needs to get organized with be met with a blank stare at best, anger at worst. The only such case where it is legitimate to raise a question is, if others need access to his/her documents and calendar, and that no one understands their system except for them. An approach that I have used to great success is to say: “I admire how organized you are, however I don’t understand your system at all, and sometimes I need to access documents or your calendar when you are absent. Could we find a solution so that I can find what I need if you’re not here?” This will usually result in a brainstorming session and a solution that works for everyone.

Now, if the person is truly disorganized, the second question I ask is, Has this person said that this is a problem and that they want to change it? If the person doesn’t recognize the problem, or recognizes it but isn’t ready and willing to make a change, in the best of cases you will see cosmetic and temporary improvements; in the worst of cases, active or passive resistance. The person has to be willing and ready for it to work.

If they are, and accept your help, remember that what works for you may not work for them. For instance, if you are a highly analytical person, a clear desk, an organizer and files in drawers may work very well, but, if the other person is highly visual and creative, your system will miserably failed when applied to them. There are many resources to help you understand a different organizing and time management style, such as Organizing from the Inside Out, by Julie Morgenstern, Organizing from the Right Side of the Brain, by Lee Silber, Organizing for the Creative Person, by Lehmkuhl and Lamping, for instance.

In any case, make sure that the person actually does meet the criteria for a disorganized person, and that they are willing to make the changes. And, please, please, don’t waste your time calling an organizer to organize this person if they are not ready. I can’t tell you how many such calls I have received… Either you will talk to a good organizer, who will insist on talking directly to the person and will make sure that the person is willing and ready before accepting the job, or you will waste your money.