Habits of Professional Organizers

People standing with thumbs up. Habits of professional organizers.
Image by Augusto Ordóñez from Pixabay

Last Friday we opened the meeting of the CT Chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO-CT) with the question, “What is one habit you have that is serving you well?” I was interested to hear what the habits of professional organizers might be, and I thought you might be as well, so I decided to make them the subject of a blog post. Surprisingly, they weren’t all about sorting, planning, tidying, or decluttering!

Before I share the habits themselves, I want to share some of the reasons why these organizers formed these various habits. Knowing our “why” is critical to achieving goals, and well worth the effort to clarify. It also helps protect us from forming bad habits. In this case, there were a couple of themes that emerged:

  • Some habits formed because an instruction had been given by someone else. More than once, people said phrases such as, “This is how I was brought up” or, “This was something my mom made us do.” Positive habits and routines formed in childhood have tremendous “staying power.” If you are a parent or grandparent, may this be an encouragement to stay the course when you encounter resistance from little ones.
  • Multiple organizers talked about mindfully forming a new habit to improve their quality of life. In some cases, this meant a change to work/personal balance. Other times, it was an improvement in relationships with friends and family members.
  • A desire to be healthier was another common motivator. Whether we want to be more alert, stronger, or even less dependent on medication, we may find a new habit is an easy way to move in the right direction.
  • In some cases, people mentioned that they had formed a habit as a solution to a situation that wasn’t working well. No one enjoys being perpetually frustrated, unproductive, late, conflicted, or otherwise stressed out. It can be easy to lose perspective when we are on the treadmill, cranking through day after day trying to meet pressing demands. However, if/when we can come up for air, step back, and objectively assess a troublesome pattern, we may find that a few changes in our habits can have a life-changing impact.
  • Lastly, for a couple of people in the room, a change of life circumstance provided the perfect opportunity to start fresh and adopt a new habit. Relocations, new employment circumstances, new relationships, etc. can shake up our daily pattern in such ways as to provide windows for doing things differently.

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Now that I’ve whet your appetite, here are some of the habits shared by the organizers and business partners in the room.

1. By far the most popular was to make the bed every day. This isn’t a new idea, and yet many people resist. One person talked about how, at the end of the day, coming into a room with a made bed felt gave him a feeling of accomplishment, even if the rest of the day had gone poorly.

2. One woman spoke about having made a fresh commitment to put belongings away. She had always believed there is value in this habit but had gotten lax following through. When she moved to a new house, she decided she would once again prioritize this discipline, and she is loving how in control she feels.

3. Numerous people talked about ways they were prioritizing habitual exercise.

  • One woman shared that she rolled out her yoga mat between her bed and the door so she would physically have to cross over it a couple of times each morning. Having this physical reminder has been helping her to stick with her goal of stretching.
  • Another person signed up for a class twice a week with a couple of coworkers, and she puts on her workout clothes on the mornings of class day to remove a barrier that could become an excuse for skipping class.
  • A third person also wanted to start stretching and found it has worked best to simply stretch in bed before getting up.

4. Two people spoke of setting up habits to eat healthier.

  • One woman spoke about the plan she has designed to drink more water. She begins and ends each day with a glass of water, and then makes herself drink a glass of water in between any other beverages she regularly enjoys. This way, she isn’t denying herself anything, but is simply adding in a healthy step.
  • One man had a goal to get more fruits and vegetables in his diet. Since he isn’t likely to eat these items during the day, he chose instead to begin each day with a smoothie. He puts a lot of fresh ingredients into the smoothie, and then either drinks it at home or takes it with him to work. He said this pattern has made it easy to up his intake of foods that he feels good about eating.

5. As organizers, it isn’t a surprise that multiple individuals focused on habits they had formed to “start the day off right.”

  • One woman gets up early each day (e.g., 4:30 am!). Since everyone else is asleep she gets a lot accomplished, and also simply enjoys the quiet time of day. She admits that waking up early works with her natural body clock, which is important. If you are a night owl, this probably isn’t a good idea for you!
  • One man talked about starting each day by sitting down and entering items into his gratitude journal. To help him remember things for which he is thankful, he keeps his calendar from the day before at hand. He loves starting the day with a positive mindset.
  • One woman decided she was going to take the advice of “experts” and not look at her phone first thing in the morning. Instead, she gets up, makes coffee, and writes in her journal. As with the early bird, journaling is a habit she naturally enjoys, so this discipline gives her a pleasant start to the day. If you aren’t much for journaling, you might choose to do something else (that doesn’t involve looking at your phone) when you first wake up.

6. Multiple people shared habits they had formed that were helping them to keep “first things first,” i.e., prioritizing activities that make them happy.

  • One woman shared that she loves old-fashioned “snail mail.” At the beginning of each month, she sits down and writes letters to friends and family members. They love receiving these notes, and she loves the process of writing them.
  • Three individuals shared habits they have formed to spend more time with family members. One has made it his routine to meet his children when they get off the bus. He likes spending a bit of time with them when they are fresh from school, helping them transition into their activities and homework, and hearing about their days. Another has starting intentionally going into her teenager’s room right before bed. It isn’t always long, but it is consistent, and she likes the way this is increasing the closeness they share. One woman talked about the way she and her husband, now “empty nesters,” have established a habit of sitting down and just being together. This wasn’t possible when the children were small and underfoot, but this new season has ushered in the opportunity to do things differently.
  • Another member wanted to spend more time with a favorite hobby: reading. To achieve this goal, she chose to turn off all screens and read at least twice a week. She reads only non-fiction and has found that setting this time aside has renewed her love of reading… and she has read quite a lot of books!

7. One member shared that she had recognized her need to take a break from being perpetually on call to work. She decided to allow herself to avoid checking email and doing work (as much as possible) from dinnertime on Saturday until dinnertime on Sunday. This allowed her to go with her instinct to start planning for the week on Sunday evenings, but still have a night off.

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Has reading this whet your appetite for forming a new habit? If so, here are a few “key success factors” to keep in mind.

1. Be very clear about your “why.” Vague goals are hard to achieve. When we lack a clear vision for where we want to go, we are more likely to be distracted and pulled off-course by temptations and “urgent” needs.

2. Add in accountability. Most people don’t trust themselves to stick with a new habit, especially in the beginning. Tell someone, hang up a photo, invest in a service/class/lesson, and/or ask a partner to do it with you.

3. Pre-game pitfalls, and ways to avoid them. Make a list of what might cause you to fall off the wagon and strategize workarounds in advance.

4. Work with your natural body clock, gifts, and inclinations. You are more likely to stick with a habit that doesn’t cause you to work against yourself. Don’t be afraid to take a less “standard” approach if it will work for you.

5. Set realistic expectations. When we aim too high by setting goals with the words “every” or “always” or “never,” we leave ourselves little wiggle room to fail. Correspondingly, when we drop the ball, we are more likely to give up because we have failed to reach the ideal goal. This is a recipe for failure. Instead, start with an achievable, sustainable change. You can increase step up your game in small increments once you have mastered the lower hurdle.

6. Form one new habit at a time. Long-term success comes over making small changes over time. Focusing on too many things at once results in blurry vision. You have the rest of your life to create new habits.

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Can you think of a new habit you would like to form? What is your why? I’d love to hear about it!

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20 thoughts on “Habits of Professional Organizers”

  1. I love this post, Seana! I can only imagine what a fascinating discussion this was. You organized the responses and why’s in such useful ways. It’s essential to know the why before any habit change is made. I’d love to know how people would respond to this one- How do you get back on track when a well-established habit goes off course?

  2. I also believe that “Knowing our “why” is critical to achieving goals, and well worth the effort to clarify.”
    I know that I “should” walk every day. I even know my why – to stay healthy and active for time with my grandchildren. I’m still looking for that “whatever” that is going to make this happen.

    1. Staying healthy isn’t an easy one to figure out. There are so many things we could be doing. I guess it comes down to finding the ones we believe will work and will do consistently, right?

    1. Exactly right, Hazel! It was kind of surprising that we didn’t spend more time talking about “organizing” habits. Self-care seemed to be a theme, and we all felt that was a good sign.

  3. Oh, Seana, there’s so much good material here. I recognize that many of the (good) habits I maintain, I’ve had since childhood. Prepping for the next day the night before, tidying everything away before moving on to the next task, and incorporating solution-oriented tasks into my life.

    I’ve worked out inconsistently throughout the years; the importance of physical health wasn’t enough to make it a consistent habit. But when the pandemic started, I read everything I could about what one could do to improve mental health during such anxious times, and walking was so highly recommended that it became a part of my daily schedule. 10K (now 10.5K) steps per day not only means I am more fit and sleep better, but on days that I walk, my mood is better. (I also practice Italian daily. Almost 5 years in, and I could almost be mistaken for a random Italian kindergartener!) Great, empowering post!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Paper Doll Shares Presidential Wisdom on ProductivityMy Profile

    1. Wow, that is a great number of steps! I don’t count my steps, but I know there are days when I’m sure I hit that target (like today, when I made about a thousand trips between a garment rack and a nearby bed to sort clothing).

      I affirm you learning Italian. I wish I spoke Spanish, but I doubt my ability to make progress with a foreign language. I have a hard enough time recalling my English vocabulary LOL.

  4. This was lots of fun to read, Seana! And, I imagine, it sparked a lively and interesting conversation in your meeting.
    I exercise a lot. I walk my dog every day – several times a day and I also spend a couple of hours practicing ballroom dancing but I have not been consistently doing exercises which target muscle groups. I want to bring this habit back so I’m starting slowly. I’ve created a 20 minute workout for myself and want to do this once a week at first and build up to three times a week. My goal is to be consistently at 3 times a week by December.

    1. I love the clarity of your goal, Diane. I suspect you will reach your goal, and it may end up making you stronger for the walking and dancing. I’m so impressed that you dance ach day – that rocks! Do you share videos of your dancing?

  5. I love the making the bed one. I started doing that about a year ago and every now and then I’ll skip it, because of dogs on the bed, or nursing in bed, or whatever the very fitting reason. And then I have to sneak back in, make the bed, and spray it with yummy sheet spray.
    Tamara recently posted…Handle Me With CareMy Profile

    1. The variety of reasons and the habits that people shared surprised me. I was expecting everyone to talk about more “organizing” habits. It was fun!

  6. As I was reading this I was thinking I need to get into the habit of making my bed each morning as soon as I get up and then saw this later in your post as a recommended habit. I have just never got into it for some reason but think this is one I will try to do! But two habits I am pretty good at is journaling and taking care of my skin (washing face every night before bed, applying sunscreen/moisturizer, etc.). The second habit is reinforced because I have eczema so if I don’t do it, there are consequences.
    Jessica recently posted…15 Best Travel Journals for Travelers – Guide to Choosing the Perfect Travel JournalMy Profile

    1. You make an excellent point, Jessica, about habits that have concrete benefits. When we see tangible results for our efforts (or the negative consequences of NOT following through), we are much more likely to stay consistent!

    1. It’s funny how well dog ownership correlates with a routine of activity. Having the need to get out with the dog provides wonderful external accountability. My sympathies on the loss of your dog. Perhaps now is the perfect time to relaunch the walking habit!

  7. During COVID, my husband and I started walking every morning for 1 mile little by little, adding time and updating outerwear and shoes during the year. After the first year, I found that when we started cycling again, I had more endurance and strength and could handle the hills a lot easier just by walking each day. Doctors would say just start walking every single day to improve your health, and it is so true. Now, four years later, we walk 3 miles a day and ride our bikes during the warm months every weekend and sometimes during the week if we have time. Great post! I love it. I must have missed the post the first time around.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…How To Jump Start Your Goals This YearMy Profile

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