The Challenge of Staying Organized at my Medical Practice

February 4, 2014
Jennifer Frank, MD

Organization improves physician work-life balance, but it's easier said than done sometimes.

I am a sucker for organizational tips, shows, books, and magazine articles. I can summarize all organizational advice into three basic principles:

#1: Get rid of clutter

#2: Don't keep, buy, obtain, or hoard more things than you have room for in your home/office/closet/garage

#3: Develop an approach to prevent more clutter and stuff from entering your life

These are good general principles to apply to the literal junk that lurks in your basement or the figurative junk that occupies your calendar or inbox. I don't think anyone could object to these principles, so why do so many of us violate them?

I think of myself as a generally neat and organized person. However, it is nearly impossible for me to keep my desk at work neat. If I am successful in organizing and corralling the piles, I immediately start wondering what's in those piles that I can no longer see. Sometimes I forget about an entire project because it is in a neatly labeled file folder that is out of my direct line of sight. Still, I persist in trying to clean up my desk. I fear this may be a battle I am always fighting. Why can't I keep my desk clean? Why can't I get to the level of organization that I desire and deserve?

I think there are some general principles at play here too.

#1: Our stuff and clutter has meaning to us. Maybe the wrong meaning, but it is meaningful nonetheless, so getting rid of things is more emotionally traumatic than it would seem just by looking at the object we cannot let go of.

#2: We fear what organization may bring to us. Maybe it's the fear of maintaining the level of organization you achieve or fearing how it may impact your work flow or fearing that you'll be letting go of something important.

#3: It requires discipline to attain and maintain organization and it's generally not high on the list of things to do that will actually get done. 

So why do we persist in this vein, trying and unfortunately failing to get organized? I think it is for a few reasons. It is emotionally and mentally uplifting to walk into an organized space without a lot of clutter.  The other side of that coin is that it can be emotionally and mentally draining to be surrounded by papers, piles, and clutter. We also ascribe a lot of moral character to being organized so it feels like a personal failure to have a messy desk or a messy kitchen. And, being hopeful creatures, it's probably similar to why we make New Year's resolutions: We are always striving to be better in areas in which we haven't yet succeeded.