Zen and the Art of Playing it SMART: Organizing Your Work

We all know that feeling, when there are too many things to do and work weighs down on us like a ton of garbage. There’s the feeling of being crushed beneath it all, of missing out on life while you work, of not knowing where to even start.

But if you tackle that last problem first then the structures you set up to organize yourself will take the rest of the weight for you. So lets look at some ways you can get organized.

Getting Zen:

Organization starts with your work space. It’s not just about practical things like whether you can find the book you need. It’s about how your brain works. Too much clutter distracts the brain. You’re overwhelmed with sensory inputs, even if you’re not thinking about them right now. So like a zen monk, clear your mind by clearing the space around you. Have a simple working space that only contains what you need right now.

Don’t even keep the notes for other essays in that space. They’ll only be a source of stress, a reminder of what else you need to do.

That inspirational poster on the wall? That’s going too. You can seek inspiration on a coffee break, when staring at pictures won’t be a distraction from work.

SMART for Smart’s Sake:

Set yourself clear goals to give you focus. One good approach to this is to make them all SMART:

  • Specific: Not just ‘write some of this essay’, a vague goal you can manage in two words, but ‘write the first two pages’.
  • Measurable: Be clear on when you will have reached your goal. A set word count or number of questions is good for this.
  • Achievable: There’s no point setting goals you can’t manage. That will only bring you down.
  • Relevant: Reading twenty pages of a text book is a good goal if it helps with your current assignment, not if it was just the easy option.
  • Time-bound: Say when you’ll complete your goal, otherwise you might let it keep on drifting.

Once you’ve set goals, work your way through them one at a time. Consider rewarding yourself for hitting them, even if it’s just by blowing off steam and tearing up paper with the goal on.

But I’m an artist!

We all like to think that we’re creative, that we work better without boundaries and organisation like this. But that’s just an excuse not to face the challenge of getting organised.

In truth, human beings function better with limits. They reduce the clutter in our minds and give us something to create with. Kurt Cobain didn’t just make wild guitar noises, he played with the structures and boundaries of rock. Pablo Picasso didn’t just throw artistic methods out the window, he looked at how to stretch them further, and worked with tireless discipline to see where that led.

Chaos doesn’t lead to creativity. Organising yourself in a way that suits you does. So simplify your working space, set yourself some goals, and let that structure take the weight of worry off your shoulders.


Picture by English106 via Flickr creative commons


Andrew Knighton

About Andrew Knighton

I'm a writer and ex-teacher. You can find more of my writing on education at: http://www.degreediary.com/bloggers/27 I also have a blog on reading and writing: https://andrewknighton.wordpress.com/

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