I Don’t Have Time to Get Organized

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Most people like the theoretical idea of being organized. If we could simply snap our fingers and have an organized space, most of us would do it. In reality, getting (and staying) organized requires some investment of time, a commodity that is often in short supply. In the face of various pressing demands, it is common to feel “I just don’t have time to get organized.”

I acknowledge that this isn’t simply laziness; people are often consumed by job demands, family needs, health crises, social commitments, and more. At the same time, it is for this very reason that being organized is so important. The truth is, saving time is one of the major benefits of getting organized!

One helpful definition of what it means to be organized is “being able to access what you need, when you need it.” With this definition in mind, here are a few facts that are worth considering:

  • The average American spends almost an hour a day (or 2 weeks per year) searching for items they have misplaced.1
  • Nearly half of Americans say disorganization causes them to work late at least 2 or more times each week.2
  • In surveying 1000 middle managers of large companies in the U.S. and U.K., 59% miss important information almost every day because it exists within the company, but they cannot find it.3
  • Getting rid of excess clutter would eliminate 40 percent of the housework in the average home.4
  • 55 percent of the respondents in a study by the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals said they would save upwards of 16 minutes to one hour a day if they were more organized.5
  • 66% of office workers surveyed by Brother™ indicated that they spent up to 30 minutes of time during a typical work week looking for things they have misplaced at their desk or around their office.6
  • It only takes about ten or twelve minutes for you to plan out your day, but this small investment of time can save you at least two hours (100-120 minutes) in wasted time and diffused effort throughout the day.7
  • Every minute you spend planning can save you 3-5 minutes later.8

The point is that being disorganized is not only frustrating and unpleasant, but it also consumes time. Because we rarely study and quantify these costs, we frequently underestimate the amount of time being lost when we fail to prioritize planning and organization. 

All of this begs the question, “How do we get organized when we have no time to organize?”

The answer comes down to priorities. Most of us make time for what truly matters. If we truly want to live a more organized life, we need to be willing to carve out time to make it happen. As much as we may wish otherwise, time is unlikely to magically appear in our schedules. Furthermore, if time does become available, those who struggle with and/or resist decluttering and planning are unlikely to spontaneously use this extra time to begin organizing. I had many people tell me that they realized after the COVID lockdowns that “having time” was apparently not the problem. They were home for months and still never achieved (or even attempted) their organizing goals.

If you have been avoiding or procrastinating organizing, it is likely that you either find the task difficult or unpleasant.

If you fall into the first category, either because you don’t know how to proceed or because you face situations that make organizing particularly challenging (e.g., hoarding disorder, ADHD, a traumatic brain injury, OCD, an overwhelming situation, a short timeline, etc.), hiring help is the wisest step.

If you feel you can do the job, but just never seem to get around to it, you will need to make changes in the way you spend your time in regard to your space and belongings. 

Let’s dive deeper into how you might do this.

The first step is to do a bit of self-reflection. Ask yourself a few questions:

1. What time of day are you most productive?

Are you a morning person who wakes up ready to go, or do you come alert when the sun goes down? Organizing takes energy and attention, so you want to be mindful in choosing a favorable time to work.

2. How do you like to work on things?

Are you a “little by little” (e.g., a drawer a day) or an “all at once” (e.g., set aside a weekend and go full strength) kind of person?

Once you have decided which approach you will take, the next step is to make an appointment (or multiple appointments) with yourself to proceed. This should be as “non-negotiable” as any other commitment on your calendar. If you are a busy person, you may need to temporarily set aside other responsibilities, or even other pleasures, while you work on achieving your organizing goals. If you find yourself making excuses at this point, remind yourself that the payoff is worth the effort. If you find you repeatedly fail to keep your appointments with yourself, you may need to add external accountability, such as a professional organizer or a body-doubling partner.

I frequently tell clients, “What gets scheduled, gets done.” When scheduling organizing sessions, it is helpful to be both specific and time-boundaried.

For example, don’t say, “I’ll work on organizing on Thursday.’ That’s too vague. When Thursday rolls around, it is too easy to feel overwhelmed, directionless, or unmotivated, which usually results in rationalizations and procrastination.

A better approach is to say, “I will work on decluttering the food cabinet to the left of the refrigerator on Thursday at 11:00am. I will do as much as I can on this project until 11:45am, and then I will spend 15 minutes resetting the cabinet. If I haven’t finished, I will schedule a second hour to work on this cabinet next Thursday, when I will repeat the process. I will keep setting aside an hour of time each week until I am finished.”

One final point is that to remember that an initial burst of effort to get organized will quickly unravel without ongoing effort to maintain the space. This doesn’t mean a marathon “cleaning” session, but rather consistent time, set aside daily, to put things back where they belong. Think of it as a chance to “reset” or “restore order.”

A friend laughingly observed, “Being organized is simply a lot of walking around and putting things away.” This is surprisingly true! By working a “reset” discipline into your daily life, you can largely avoid the “giant mess” that most people find intimidating and painful.

Putting things away is like wrapping a gift for your future self.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” Now more than ever, our time is our most valuable resource. Rather than spend it making excuses, spend it making a positive difference.

*     *     *

Do you struggle to get and stay organized? Has “lack of time” been your excuse? How might you alter this habit to achieve your organizing goals?

Seana's signature
  1. 2003, Simple Living
  2. Jane Von Bergen, “So many reasons to neaten up…” Boston Globe 3/12/2006 Esselte survey, David Lewis
  3. Accenture, Wall Street Journal, 5/14/2007
  4. National Soap and Detergent Association
  5. National Association of Professional Organizers, February 2008
  6. Brother International “P Touch Means Business” Survey
  7. Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy
  8. Bureau of Labor Statistics

18 thoughts on “I Don’t Have Time to Get Organized”

  1. We’re both thinking about time this week, although with different perspectives. I love all the stats you shared about organizing, lost time, and time earned. One thing that stood out has to do with prioritizing. The first step is making the commitment to what’s most important. And if finding things easily, not wasting time, and having the days flow better are at the top of the list, then it makes sense to get organized. The trick, as you suggested, is being consistent with your effort. That’s where things can quickly go sideways. Having an organizing accountability partner can be helpful with this aspect.

    1. I love that we are on the same track thinking about time this week. Time is one of those topics that is universally relevant, right? It all comes down to priorities, and then finding a way to shift your behavior to align with those priorities. Sometimes this happens naturally, and other times, we need a more intentional approach!

  2. I love all the statistics you provided for the benefits of prioritizing organizing. What I found through the pandemic is not that people don’t have time, rather it’s that they really don’t like (often the word hate is included) to organize. That was a big awakening to many! For those who “hate” to organize, it takes a perspective shift to prioritize these benefits listed and dig into that emotion. After this new perspective takes hold, real shifts in priority take place.

    1. I find that some people who think they hate organizing actually end up enjoying the process once they have the tools to proceed. “It gets easier and easier” I tell my clients – and it does!

  3. Seana, this is such a valuable post. The statistics you shared are important reminders of the time that gets squandered when no maintenance systems are put in place. I believe another reason people hesitate to begin organizing is that they are looking for the ‘best’ place to start. Organizing in a home in which there are few, if any maintenance systems in place, can feel like playing dominos. You find that when you work in one place it becomes necessary to work in another place and so on. I advise my clients to start in the place that is bothering them the most and go from there.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…How to Avoid Having Anxiety Over House GuestsMy Profile

    1. That’s so true, Diane! Even when I start working in one area with a client, I find that it often bleeds into another area of the home. For example, we start in the linen closet and then find so much overlap with the bathroom. It takes patience to see it through, and sometimes we end up going back and tweaking. But the rewards are tangible, and so worth the investment!

    1. Exactly, Jonda. That is completely true for me, for organizing and anything else. I need to schedule it, and then I will be much more likely to get it done.

    1. I’ve noticed that we truly are different on this one. It is always easier to “row downstream” than to fight your natural inclinations, right?

  4. I love a research-based post that provides actionable advice to solve the problems. Yours is the model for the best kinds of posts — you laid out the facts, set the record straight, and provided keys to GETTING IT DONE. I’ve always believed that if you act like you don’t have time to get organized and do things right, you’re going to suffer when you have to find time to things over when you find you’ve done them wrong. It’s just common-sense; good organizing moves make life easier and give you back more time!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Cool and Colorful Desktop Solutions to Organize Your WorkspaceMy Profile

    1. I feel like organized people, who spend time daily resetting their space, spend much less time organizing than those who let it go and then try to catch up all at one time. As you point out, plus the frustration and lost time in the interim while you are hunting for things!

  5. Seana, I love this post, you make so many great points! The statistics that you gave show how much time can be saved by getting organized. “What gets scheduled, gets done.” is such valuable advice. Prioritizing, scheduling organizing, and being specific about what you’ll work on and for how long, can really make a difference. The reset is important too, I love the idea that putting things away is like wrapping a gift for your future self!
    Nancy Haworth recently posted…Reorganizing to Switch to First Floor Living to Age in PlaceMy Profile

    1. Over the year’s I’ve gathered a few catchphrases that apply to various situations. I do think they can help us remember important principles!

  6. “What gets scheduled gets done.” I think this is an awesome statement. We all procrastinate at some point or another but if we have it on our schedule, or our to-do list it’s more likely to be accomplished.

    1. Yes, that phrase has proved it’s worth more than once. Schedule it if you want to make sure you do it. Items that perpetually hang out on a long/un-prioritized list are the ones that never seem to get done!

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