A professional organizer says too many people think of 'organization' all wrong


messy desk


It's not a superficial thing.

I've never really aspired to be an "organized" person. To me, the whole thing about making to-do lists, and color-coding your wardrobe, and filing your emails into uber-specific folders has always seemed kind of, well, superficial.


I mean, I have more exciting things to do than figure out whether two T-shirts are the same shade of gray.

This is not Josh Zerkel's attitude toward organization. Zerkel is the director of global community and training at Evernote and a certified professional organizer. So obviously, the guy is going to be an advocate for keeping your physical and digital space tidy.

But when I met with Zerkel in May, he shared a takeaway from his experience working with clients that started chipping away at my distaste for the organized life: Productivity is a "nice byproduct," he said. "The real difference is in how empowered you feel over your work and really your life."

He went on: "The thing that [clients] were expecting to get done is to manage the paper on their desk. The thing they weren't expecting was to feel more power over it."


When most people think about organization, "we think about the cover of the magazine with the clean office; you don't think about how it makes you feel, or how it helps you work better."

Now that's deep.

Zerkel said that, when clients seek out his help, they often feel like they're out of control - they don't know how to get everything done, and they can't prioritize tasks.

It's a feeling I've often experienced, though I've never sought the help of a productivity expert. In fact, I've never really thought that de-cluttering my workspace would make such a difference in my life overall.

But when it comes to feeling disempowered, Zerkel said, "that is a really bad spot to be in if you're trying to further your success as a businessperson, or even just as an individual."


He called the pile of papers on a client's desk and the overflowing calendar mere "symptoms" of a larger problem. "I'm trying to get them to: What is it that is causing these behaviors? What are the habits that we need to build or rebuild from scratch to help you feel like you're in control?"

Those specific habits depend on the person and their particular problem areas.

All this is to say: The shiny-clean, clutter-free desk isn't the end goal of your productivity "journey." The end goal is that empowered feeling Zerkel mentioned.

Which makes getting started organizing your life a bit easier. If the shiny-clean desk isn't motivation enough, perhaps the knowledge that you'll no longer be drowning in a tidal wave of papers and/or appointments will be.