Have you ever thought about how many times your heart beats in a second, minute, day, or hour? Very few of us ever think about how our body functions, yet there it is–doing an amazing job of balancing all of our internal systems to keep us alive.
A parallel can be made between our involuntary body systems and “involuntary” systems of organization that help us achieve success. Imagine having to tell your heart each time blood needs to pump or to tell your lungs when it’s time to breathe. This would be a very inefficient way of managing our body, not to mention it would be an all-consuming exercise leaving us with no time to do anything else. Likewise with office or personal organization systems, if they are not “second nature” or “involuntary” for us, we continue to struggle with disorganization, stress, procrastination, overwhelm, and other symptoms that hinder our productivity.
An organized person knows (almost intuitively) their priorities including where to find information and how to manage their time. Each time they need to work on a priority item, they know immediately how to go about it. They do not create a new system(s) for prioritizing or getting organized. They have created efficient workflow systems, so they need very little time to maintain or think about them. Much like the involuntary heart beats.
Think about a records management system that includes filing cabinets stuffed with file folders and documents. The file folders are labeled, but there is no consistency in labeling or filing. Do you think this system is easy to use? No, it is not. And because it is not easy to use, each time you need to file something, you need to think about how and where you will file your documents. This takes up your time and energy and creates stress. An intuitively organized filing system, on the other hand, enables you to file “automatically” and keep work flowing seamlessly.
Other examples include the manner in which invoices are expedited for payment or the way in which patients are triaged at medical clinics. Once the workflow process is set up and procedures learned for each process, you no longer need to waste time thinking about how to do something. In effect, your process and procedures have enabled you to devise your own automatic system for the way you work. The work becomes second nature. The more automatic the flow, the more organized the system.
A nice side effect of automatic processes and systems is that they enable us to be more creative. This is because we do not have to think about the process or system–we just do our work; like our heart beating in the background, our process and systems are also in silent mode. This enables our minds the freedom to explore new opportunities, giving us the ability to be even more productive.
Next time you work on a task, ask yourself if you need to rely on procedures each time or has the task become automatic. If you need to spend time thinking about how to approach the same task each time, then ask how you can make your thinking about the work more automatic. You owe it to yourself to make your tasks as automatic as possible, so that thinking about the systems and processes doesn’t detract from your ability to use them.