Situational Disorganization: Here’s How These 4 Successful Professionals Handle It


When we are preoccupied with too many tasks, life can get complicated and disorganized.

Situational disorganization happens when changes in our lives disrupt the sense of order that existed before. It can be brought about by a recent move, illness, a change of schedule, or any similar situation where you find yourself lacking motivation and energy.

If this sounds like you and you’re ready to start undoing the effects of situational disorganization, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, you’re not alone – even the most successful professionals out there have been in your shoes. If you’re ready to learn how they stay productive, read on!

A. Set priorities.

Organized people know exactly which tasks require their immediate attention and which can be put off for later. In order to get things rolling, you need to get a clear sense of what’s important.

Warren Buffett’s 2-list strategy

computer on desk (1280x853)The world’s most successful investor Warren Buffett knows a thing or two about how to prioritize. His 2-list strategy
comes from an anecdote shared by Buffett’s friend to Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend, wherein Buffett asked him to do the following:

  • Write down your top 25 goals. (You can decide your own timeline–25 goals for the week/month/lifetime?)
  • Review your list and circle your top 5.

Now, you have 2 lists: 5 circled items on A and the other 20 on B. Buffett reportedly told his friend, “Everything you didn’t circle just became your avoid-at-all-cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

You can apply this to your life by setting 5 small tasks to accomplish each day. By concentrating only on a few things, you can expend your time and energy wisely on just the steps to complete your projects. Working on 5 tasks in a day sounds more realizable than 25 you wish you could get done.

Jay Shirley’s Must, Should, Want method

desk-office-pen-rulerThe software developer and creator of habit-forming app The Daily Practice structures his days by these 3 action points:

  • I must… (a task with immediate impact)
  • I should… (a task that will contribute to long-term goals)
  • I want… (a task you genuinely want to do)

By doing this, you will be able to check off your most urgent to-do with #1, while contributing to a long-term objective ahead of time with #2. You will also be able to appease and satisfy personal wishes by tending to them with #3. Itemizing your agenda this way can help you plot out your day systematically.

B. Re-focus.

Now that you have identified your priorities, it is time to maximize your efforts by zeroing in on the little things you can do to prepare and execute your plans.

Peter Gollwitzer’s If-then planning

In his research on how goals and plans affect cognition and behaviour, this professor of psychology at NYU calls this method “implementation intentions.”

It follows the format: If situation X happens, I will perform behaviour Y.

man whiteboard (1280x853)Gollwitzer found that “forming implementation intentions facilitates detecting, attending to, and recalling the critical situation…” When you set specific contingencies, you are likely to follow through according to plan: “[In] the presence of the critical situation, the initiation of the specified goal-directed behaviour is immediate, efficient, and does not need a conscious intent.”

Simply put, objectives are more likely to be met and projects are more likely to be completed if you set out a clear course of action. By breaking down your goals into specific, easily achievable tasks, you instill within yourself effective and proactive ways of preventing or withdrawing from situational disorganization.


You can start by revising your life resolutions from the vague “eat healthy” to “If I won’t have time to cook breakfast in the morning, I’ll prepare the fruits and vegetables I want in a smoothie the night before.”

You can also apply it to chores you want to get done but have yet to tend to, such as…

  • “organize book shelf” and changing it to “if I have already finished a book and the chances of reading it again are low, I will donate it to my nearest sidewalk library;”
  • tidy my closet” to “if I haven’t worn an article of clothing in the past year, I’ll check if my sister wants it. If not, I’ll donate it to a clothing drive.”

Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

clothes-rail-918859_1920Marie Kondo’s New York Times bestselling book on decluttering has started an organizing frenzy worldwide. She advocates to only holding on to things that spark joy and going through the following with your belongings:

  • Audit. Carry out a self-audit of your things. (Kondo suggests doing this by category. For example, tackle all your clothing at once or all of your books at once instead of letting forgotten books and accessories in other areas of your home creep up on you). Apply Kondo’s basic tenet to everything, and ask yourself: does it bring joy into your life? If not, what are your reasons for holding on to it?
  • Respect. Throughout the whole book, Kondo emphasizes time and again to respect your belongings. Make sure to give them homes by assigning specific places where they go when not in use. And sometimes, the most respectful thing to do with your no longer needed (or no longer joyful) stuff is to let them go. Be sure to dispose of them properly. Recycle or donate, accordingly.
  • Maintain. Take a few moments each day to put things back in their proper places. The time it takes to do this will be significantly less than the time it takes to look for something that wasn’t put away properly. Routinely asking yourself whether the things you own continue to bring joy into your life will eventually seep into your daily decision-making. Thereby, keeping situational disorganization at bay.

The upside to situational disorganization is that it is temporary. As long as you recognize it for what it is and work toward figuring out what organizing regimen works for you, you will be able to climb your way out of the mess that is situational disorganization.