Friday, September 06, 2002


I've been wanting to write about this subject for a while: the cult of being organized. I'm strangely, strongly attracted to concepts and products that promote living an organized life, but I'm often not organized and seem to live deliberately in rebellion of being organized. An organized life covers many areas: daily homemaking tasks; work-related duties; a Ph.D. course of study assignments; long-term plans for supporting life after income-earning years are past; and then the social, familial, and spiritual sides of life, if indeed such can be "organized."

To state the obvious, for me the desire to be organized is the desire to have things under control. I think, too, I sometimes confuse organizing something (or even only thinking about organizing something) with actually getting something done. And for me that's the seduction of the cult of organization. The catalogues promoting Daytimer or FranklinCovey products, for example, show calendar pages with notes such as "Write budget" or "Pick up dry-cleaning" or "Order tickets for the opera." Somehow the painful experience of hours trying to figure out a budget for the next year will be reduced to a tidy line if only I buy the cream and black leather desk-size stuff-your-whole-life-in-this zippered planner. And, of course, I'll be the sort of person who regularly attends the opera.

Today I was set off by an article in the WSJ, "Teens Trade Assignment Books for Time-Management Tools" by Nancy Ann Jeffrey (paid subscription required). The article points out how teenagers (and younger children) are being encouraged to take time-management courses and use corporate-type tools such as electronic planners and spreadsheets.
From his color-coded filing system to a date planner marked up with deadlines, Edmund Holderbaum is equipped with all the tools a busy executive needs to juggle big projects. He even met with one of those pricey time-management consultants, getting tips on keeping his paperwork straight.

It should all come in handy -- for his next geometry quiz. The 14-year-old Mr. Holderbaum has just entered the 10th grade, complete with an arsenal of organizational strategies for that extra edge in class. All the schedules, charts and files, he says, give him "a chance at competing."

Meet the new buttoned-down, ultra-organized CEO: your teenager. If it looks like kids are growing up even faster than usual lately, one of the reasons is they're getting a big push -- from parents and teachers seemingly intent on raising a new generation of Organization Kids. They're getting help from an industry that's deluging kids with MBA-style strategies for success, from books (a teen-tailored version of the blockbuster "Who Moved My Cheese?" hits stores this fall) and $400 Palm organizers to workshops and tapes that push go-getter mantras like "sharpen the saw." Schools across the country are buying into the idea big-time, shelling out thousands on journals, workbooks and other classroom materials intended to teach organizational skills.
Other teen editions of the current popular books on the subject are being published—some by the children of the authors of the adult versions! For example: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens: The Ultimate Teenage Success Guide by Sean Covey or Organizing From the Inside Out for Teens: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Room, Your Time, and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern and Jessie Morgenstern-Colon.

The article writes about Jessie Morgenstern-Colon:
The high-school senior credits her organizing prowess with helping her get good grades -- while simultaneously practicing dance several hours a day, doing community service and staying in touch with friends. Her secret: A computer spreadsheet in which she logs activities for every hour of every day, clearing space for her one "leisure" activity -- a weekend night out with girlfriends -- and "keeping in touch" (a weekly phone call to a friend from camp). "I'm a very goal-driven person," she says. "To know that at the end of the day I've accomplished a billion things because I've time-mapped well is the most satisfying thing in the world."
To be continued (lunchtime is just so rushed...).

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