I used to believe that I was an organized person because I prefer to have a tidy and clutter-free home. Over the past few months, however, I have begrudgingly accepted that organized does not even appear on the list of qualities that describe me.
When I think beyond cleanliness, I associate organization with well-used planners filled with lists, schedules, and goals. I think of structure and systems that make everything run smoothly. I think of productivity, efficiency, and step-by-step plans for getting from point A to point B.
If I were to be tested on those qualifications, I would surely fail.
The truth is that as much I love the idea of structure, schedules, plans, and lists, I cannot force myself to embrace them, no matter how hard I try. The rigidity makes me feel like I am in a vice that is slowly squeezing every last bit of enjoyment out of my life.
Call me a free spirit, but I need flexibility and spontaneity or I go a little crazy. I start to turn into a rigid and inflexible person when I force myself to live by rigid and inflexible rules and plans. Trust me; that is not pretty.
I feel more comfortable and joyful when I can go with the flow, making decisions as they come rather than crafting detailed plans in advance. I am a natural improviser, with one of my favorite phrases being, “I will figure it out.”
And I always do.
I sometimes wish I was more like my ultra-organized friends who can accomplish more in a day than I can in a week. But I am learning to work with the brain that I have – the rebellious one that fights against structure like it is the enemy.
If you, like me, are a bit of a wanderer who feels suffocated by too much structure, perhaps these five strategies that work for me will help you navigate life with more purpose and joy:
1. Ditch the Traditional Planner
I want to be able to make a planner work for me, but I just can’t do it. I think my record for consistent planner use is two weeks, and that might even be a stretch.
For years, I felt guilty because it somehow got ingrained in my mind that I would never accomplish anything worthwhile unless I scheduled it in a planner. But the reality was that I did not stick to what I wrote anyway because it felt too restricting, so it wasn’t doing me a lick of good.
It may be true that writing things down is a step in the direction of accomplishment, but if you feel smothered by detailed plans, try a bullet journal instead. The flexibility of that system might be just what you need.
2. Plan Necessary Things and Be Flexible With the Rest
One reason why I struggle with making plans is that I have no idea what I will feel like doing in the future, be it this afternoon, tomorrow, next week, or next year. And, for whatever reason, how I feel makes a HUGE difference in my ability to be productive.
I understand that some things are set in stone, and those things go on my calendar first. I plan my weekly schedule around appointments, meetings, carpools, classes, exercise, and my kids’ activities, but I try to leave the rest as open as possible so that I can make decisions on the fly.
If I feel inspired and want to spend the morning writing, I do it. If I try to write without inspiration behind me, I will get nowhere, so I don’t have my writing schedule set in stone. And if I get the wild idea to go to the mall or meet a friend for lunch, I go with it, as long as it does not conflict with the necessities.
I find that I can get everything done when I approach life like this, even if it doesn’t get done in a linear fashion. I often jump from one thing to the next, but I always come back and finish what I started. The spontaneity that I build into my schedule in this way make me feel alive. Perhaps, it will be helpful to you, as well.
3. Don’t Lock Yourself into a Strict Weekly Meal Plan
As you can imagine, I detest meal planning because I want to eat whatever sounds good, which doesn’t always coincide with what I put on a calendar at the beginning of the week. However, if I don’t plan anything, we end up eating junk, and that is no good, either.
So I compromise.
I try to plan a few meals before I do my grocery shopping for the week so that I have the ingredients on hand. I do not, however, decide in advance when I will prepare them. That allows me some freedom to make whatever sounds good on a particular day, based on the ingredients that I purchased for a select group of recipes. The flexibility feeds my soul as well as my stomach.
4. Focus on the Big Picture
If you are like me, ironing out details makes you feel like you are walking through peanut butter: heavy and overwhelmed. If that is the case, focus on the big picture instead. Try to imagine the outcome you hope to achieve with a given situation or goal, and allow that mental image to guide your daily decisions like a compass.
Sometimes I must organize details, regardless of my big picture planning. I have found, however, that the details often take care of themselves when I keep the big picture in the forefront of my mind and make deliberate decisions to move in that direction.
5. Stop Feeling Guilty and Choose to See Beauty
Sometimes, I feel like an alien in a world of people who are moving mountains with their productivity and detailed goals. Dwelling on that for too long inevitably results in guilt because I start to feel like I should be one of them, yet I always fall far short.
In those moments, I have to remind myself that brain is wired completely differently and that is not a bad thing. It can, in fact, be a blessing.
People like me bring adaptability, spontaneity, open-mindedness, and creative possibilities to the table. The details and plans may be better handled by somebody else, but feeling guilty about that will only lead to further overwhelm.
Instead, choose to see the beauty in your gifts and the way that you walk through life, with all of its free-spirited grandeur. Life would be boring if we were all focused on and good at the same things. So let’s celebrate our differences.
While we are a productivity-driven culture, may we also choose to see the wonder in possibilities, last-minute gatherings, and skillful improvising. May we remember, as J.R.R. Tolkien so eloquently said:
Some wanderers are only trying to find enjoyment in the fast-paced, task-oriented, results-driven society in which we live. If you are one of them, try ditching your traditional planner, giving yourself permission to be flexible with timetables and meal plans, focusing on the big picture, and tossing guilt aside. You just might discover a whole new level of satisfaction in the process.
Are you a free spirit? What things have you found helpful in navigating the waters of organization? Share in the comments section below.
P.S. If you want to discover a little more about how your own mind is wired, try taking this free personality test. It is the best free one I have found (and I have taken a lot!)