Do we organize things to get more done, or does it just feel good?

Blackwings

 

I was recently playing trains with my son and naturally started sorting the cars by type so he could quickly find the ones he wanted.  It felt quite natural to start this way and it was enjoyable to get them all lined up.

This led me to wonder, is it really efficient to do something like this, or does it just feel good?

IT JUST FEELS GOOD

To start, it has been shown that the act of sorting and organizing things has been tied to the dopamine reward center in our brains.  This is why Tetris was/is so popular because our minds like to complete little tasks.  Dr Tom Stafford explored this theory a few years ago when Tetris turned 30 years old in his article in BBC Future:

"The game of tessellating bricks takes advantage of the mind’s basic pleasure in tidying up by feeding it with a world of perpetual uncompleted tasks."
Tetris Drawing

This is the same concept when we make To-Do lists and only work on the easy ones.  Or when making long lists of books to read, workouts to try, meals to make, or places to visit. Afterwards you feel productive and ready to start anything...only to realize you don't have time to get to them.  

To further support the theory that our minds like things to be organized, just look at some of the popular Instagram feeds of sorted objects to help make them feel less foreign.

Flatlays

Side Note: All the Blackwing pencils in my cover picture were purchased from CW Pencils!

Side Note: All the Blackwing pencils in my cover picture were purchased from CW Pencils!

I could go on and on and entire Reddit subreddits have been made showing just how much people love to look at organized stuff called knolling. Okay, so in general, people like to sort and organize things.


GETTING ORGANIZED

The next step is to decide if there is a benefit to getting organized before starting a new project.

"As human beings, it is in our nature to seek order when we are presented with new information, in an attempt to sort and classify that information quickly.  The action is paramount to our understanding of what is being presented."  
- Amy Graver & Ben Jura, Best Practices for Graphic Designers
"Productivity and efficiency depend on systems that help us organize through categorization.  The drive to categorize developed in the prehistoric wiring of our brains, in specialized neural systems that create and maintain meaningful, coherent amalgamations of things-foods, animals, tools, tribe members-in coherent categories.  Fundamentally, categorization reduces mental effort and streamlines the flow of information."

- Dr. Daniel Levitin. The Organized Mind

 

Organized tool kit

"One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity."

- Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tiding Up

Once you start getting projects done, you build your Internal Locus of Control.

Once you start getting projects done, you build your Internal Locus of Control.

The Princeton Neuroscience Institute published a study in The Journal of Neuroscience addressing this question directly by studying what happens when someone tries to work in a visually stimulated environment.  The way we process visual information is a competitive system and therefore, we can gain a higher level of concentration when fewer visual items are competing for our attention.  

Keeping your desk organized and tidy helps with concentration and productivity.

Keeping your desk organized and tidy helps with concentration and productivity.

BENEFITS OF BEING ORGANIZED

The benefits attributed to being organized are quite long and hard to ignore when they stand up to testing.  Here are just a few that I believe stand out:

  • Reducing stress and depression
  • Eating healthier
  • Exercising more and losing weight
  • Sleeping better

The above are taken from this article that goes into the science behind each benefit.

IN SUMMARY

To answer the question, 'is getting organized a beneficial act, or just a way to feel better,' I believe the answer is...both. The science behind these ideas can't be ignored and I can see the benefits every time I work on a project.  

There are plenty of people who get a lot done without having a clean workspace, but the science suggests it is more taxing on the brain. (I wrote a whole blog post on this here) There are also levels of organization and all the different areas of life that impact how one can be 'organized' that I haven't addressed.  

Overall, I believe the case can be made that by getting organized it helps generate a positive feeling and helps to get more done.

I hope you enjoyed this post and please let me know if you agree!  

Mike