I’m not a neat person.


Right now, my desk is scattered with crap. There’s a bill from Fedex, an empty cardboard box, and some AA batteries rolling around. It’s not the picture of feng shui and cleanliness that is plastered in a magazine.

But heck with that! I run my own business, and I manage to keep my life pretty organized. I show up to meetings on time, meet deadlines, and keep track of how much money I’m owed. But that’s because I work hard at this, and have figured out a lot of ways to stay organized.

So, how do you stay organized when you were born messy? Here’s my advice:

Come up with systems

If you’re not born with the neatness gene, then you have to rely on systems to keep you organized. A system is a set of procedures for getting something done, and it’s essential to have good systems if you want to stay organized.

For example, if you find that you’re constantly missing meetings, something is broken in your system. Are the meetings making it on to your calendar, and you’re forgetting about them? Do you have notifications set up on your desktop computer, but not on your phone? In order to ensure that you make every meeting, you have to come up with a system that works for you.

Use software tools

In the professional world, most people use software tools to support their systems, but it can take significant tweaking to make sure you have the right tools, and that they’re working hard for you.

As a freelance writer, I have a lot of due dates, and I can’t adhere to them if I just use a paper calendar. I use Trello, a project management system, synced with Sunrise, a calendar app, to make sure that I hit all my deadlines. Sunrise sends me and text message reminders about due dates to ensure that I don’t miss them.

Implementing new software tools, such as screen-sharing and video chat, can complement the systems you already have.

Make sure everything you own has a home

This is a trick I learned from my mother’s best friend, who is a professional organizer. It’s essential that everything you own– whether it’s a digital asset or a pair of underwear– has a place where it gets put away.

When you’re done with it, it goes back to its house. This strategy makes it easy to clean your kitchen, but it also helps you with work. I don’t know how many times I’ve misplaced a PDF because I didn’t have a system of folders on my computer. Having a system– where every asset has a home– is essential to increasing efficiency and staying organized.

Enlist the help of a neat freak friend

When I was working at in-house at a tech company, I had a coworker who was a neat freak. She knew I struggled to stay organized, and once a quarter or so, she would help me clean my desk and organize my computer desktop.

It sounds babyish, but asking a neat friend or coworker for help can make a big difference. This coworker helped me set up processes, systems, and homes for all my stuff. After spending a half hour with her cleaning my desk, I suddenly had a place to store my pens, so it made it much easier for me to stay organized in the weeks after our session.

This coworker really respected my work, and was happy to help get things in check.

Final thoughts: Organization is possible

I’m probably never going to have a kitchen without any crumbs, but I’ve learned a lot of organization strategies that have helped me make sure that my messy tendencies never get in the way of my productivity. I used to be all over the place, but today I’m actually pretty organized. If you come up with systems, support them with software, and ask for help, you can improve your organization skills, too.