My Structure Is Not Your Structure and Your Structure Is Not My Structure

A lot of people I've been talking with lately have been exploring the idea of setting up systems and routines for themselves. Someone told me recently that the Dalai Lama said one of the keys to happiness is ROUTINE. In a Mazlow's-hierarchy-of-needs sort of way, we need to know that the basic framework of the bulk of our days is set, so we are not expending a crapload of energy each day trying to figure out what the fudgsicles we're doing. Rather, having a set of parameters to frame the day allows us to relax into our lives, allowing for focus and productivity. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently wrong with flexibility, but it has to be applied in moderation. I know for sure that too much flexibility for too long leads me to floundering, which is a very short road to becoming a puddle of existential angst, whining on the floor (you should sing that last bit a-la-Natalie Imbruglia, BTW).

This IS how I pose for pictures. Get off my back.

This IS how I pose for pictures. Get off my back.

The sweet spot: Frame out the day, but build in flexibility to choose the order in which the minutiae get done. Like, I go to the office every weekday from 9 to 5. While I'm there, I can choose to answer emails first, get right to work on that taxidermy project, or make a Pinterest board of sailboats to get inspiration for my next wallpaper design. Or whatever. The point is, non-rigid-yet-omnipresent-structure makes for a happier you.

Not surprisingly, I'm sure, I love structure. I thrive in it. Systems are my jam. Thinking about processes lights me up. My brain is always two steps ahead in most task-oriented situations. It's always about WHAT I'M GOING TO DO NEXT. (Problems with living in the moment and whatnot aside) I enjoy bringing big-picture order, especially in the home. It's what I do, lit-rally and figuratively.

But, my special snowflakes, we are all unique. What would be supportive structure for me might be anathema to you. MY personal structure might be something you like in theory, but in practice, you rebel against because it doesn't fit the authentic YOU.

This is why in parenting education and in home organizing, my motto is this:

  1. Know yourself and your preferences and values
  2. Know your family and their preferences and personalities
    (2.5. Know your space and what it can realistically support)
  3. Choose the methods that resonate with 1 + 2 and don't worry about what doesn't work (i.e., don't compare yourself to what others are doing)

So, the big question is, how do you find the system that will work the best for you? Well, I'll be honest--I don't entirely know, in a general sense. I could walk you through it one-by-one, but that could take awhile.

In any case, I'm curious. Are there universal steps to figuring out YOUR system? Universal components to ALL systems?

Here's what I think I know so far:

I refuse to do it that way.

I refuse to do it that way.

  • Systematization can't be the way someone else does things superimposed on you, unless you happen to work in a similar way. Again, how my brain works isn't necessarily how your brain works. Just because some system looks fancy and cool in a magazine doesn't mean it is for you, in practical terms. Maybe you like to see your tools when you're working so you know what you have to work with. I hate clutter and have to put everything away to feel comfortable. Ergo, my system wouldn't work for you, even if you might aspire to it.
  • Systematization is an organic process that emerges as you learn how to do something well. The more you know about something, the better you understand what needs to be done. The more you do what needs to be done, the better you understand your own preferences for how to do it. In other words, once your skill set reaches a tipping point, YOUR obvious system will emerge. Confession: I don't know how to run a business. To quote The Princess Bride, "I have no gift for strategy." IN THIS WAY. My brain obviously knows how to strategize structure and systems, but that has to be applied to something I know how to do already for my gifts to kick in to their fullest. So for a household, I'm all about systems and structure, thanks to my parents who made me do chores from the time I was 5. But when it comes to figuring out my marketing pipeline, for example, I'm all, "I know, I'll Feng Shui my bedroom!" [Read: instead of working on my damn pipeline, which I have no idea how to do.] But I'm learning and have thankfully found some guidance that really resonates with me. And I know that with time, focused attention, and practice, I'll get a system and structure going here too, one that suits me. It's the combination of practice, together with the articulation of your authentic self that makes for a sustainable system.
  • You have to care enough to do something about it. Another confession: My computer is something of a mess because I'm a digital hoarder. But guess what? I don't care. I have a vague sense that I should care, I'm supposed to care, and blahblahblah, but really, I don't care. Having papers that I wrote in undergrad on my computer doesn't bother me. I MIGHT NEED THEM. Someone could certainly come in and shame me about this, but having a cleaned up computer is not a priority for me. And that's OK! So if you feel like you have the nagging sense (or someone is literally nagging you) that you should be doing _______, but really it isn't impacting anyone's quality of life that much, is it really a problem? If it ain't broke and all that...
  • You may actually already have a system in place without realizing it. Let's say that every time you come home you dump your coat, keys, and bag in a particular place in your house. You do it every time, without thinking about it. Dude, that is your system. If it is bothering you and you want to gussy up the place, put some hooks to hang your things on right above your current dumping spot. Et voila! A formal system! Now it's a small leap to making the habit of hanging things up vs. dumping them on the floor--as opposed to forcing yourself to walk across the room to your coat closet to put the things away because that's where some architect or designer decided they "should" live.

So that's what I've got so far. What do you think? What helps you to make a system or a routine? What helps you to stick with it? Why haven't systems or routines worked for you in the past?