Myth: Organization is the Key to Productivity

Productive chaos?

The problem with commonsense is that it isn’t that common. I’ve read a lot of books on productivity and time management and they all seem to espouse the same basic idea. The false idea that the reason you aren’t productive is because you simply aren’t organizing, prioritizing and using your time efficiently.

Experimenting With Chaos

I used to believe this fallacy. Over a year ago I slowly moved my life to a highly organized state. My environment was highly ordered. My time was scheduled and blocked off. I had a highly ordered routine. My productivity skyrocketed and I was able to manage a lot more activities including working part time, keeping an A+ average in my classes, finishing my interactive software program, coaching minor soccer and regularly attending Toastmasters on top of numerous other tasks.

After that year I decided to partake in a personal experiment. Moving to a new location I wanted to try living a less orderly existence. I wanted to improve my spontaneity and lateral growth. The first few weeks of my experiment I went from an extremely ordered environment to barely maintained chaos.

Order is Not the Key Factor

What do you think happened to my productivity? The surprising answer was: not much. My productivity did drop slightly, but after a month of adjusting to the new location I was surprised how little order really mattered to final production. My posting rate didn’t decline significantly and in many ways I did more meaningful things than when I was highly ordered.

I went full circle. I went from highly organized where I woke up at exactly the same time every day (usually 5:30 or 6:00 AM) to waking up at 6 some days and sleeping in until after 10:00 on others. I rarely had more than a few consecutive days where my schedule was similar. I still used my calendar and daily goals binder, but I always decided what to do in the moment without advanced planning.

Drive is More Important Than Organization

If switching from very orderly to mild chaos had only a slight effect on productivity, that proved to me that being ordered wasn’t the most critical factor. The real essence of productivity never was organization but drive.

Drive is desire. It comes from when the goals you set are really inspiring and you really enjoy the activities that lead up to them. The key factor in writing this article wasn’t scheduling it off or putting it on a to-do list. It comes from really enjoying writing articles and the compelling vision that writing this article forms a part of.

Order Won’t Substitute Desire

Order isn’t a substitute for desire and drive. If your upcoming schedule doesn’t fill you with enthusiasm, good luck trying to get it done. Order may allow you to discipline yourself for a week or two, but eventually it starts breaking down. A lack of desire quickly translates into you dragging your feet at every task you take on.

Try a Dose of Chaos

Living life entirely unscripted definitely isn’t for everyone. But even in my brief shift to a more spontaneous way of life, I have seen benefits. When you make your decisions about what to do moment to moment, the myths about order start to go away. More order may mean a bit more gets done but it also means less flexibility to take on new opportunities.

The real question is this: If you threw away all your day planners, calendars, lists and only made decisions about what to do in the moment would you still be doing what you are doing? Would you still wake up early to go running? Would you still go to work? Would you still do most the things you currently have scheduled? If you weren’t ordered, would you still live the same way?

If the answer is no, not enough organization really isn’t your problem.

Image courtesy of flickr

  • Basu

    While order may not be the key, I still think it is a pretty good stop-gap measure. It somewhat forces you to do things which you know have to get done, but you don’t really want to.

  • Scott Young


    You are correct, having organization can force you to do things you don’t want to do. But I think some people use this method excessively. Being organized definitely isn’t a bad thing, it just isn’t the key factor that determines how much you get done.


    I’ve only read one post yet and I already think your blog is simply amazing. I’ll spread the word here in the Netherlands..

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  • Nino

    Tried to order your book via paypal but it won’t accept any credit cards. i tried all of mine and no luck. funny because they never get refused. it it BROKEN???

  • Scott Young


    Send me another email with the details of your error and I’ll get the situation fixed ASAP. I didn’t hear a reply back from you.


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  • Sol

    I suspect trying to get organized can be a form of procrastination. My brother, faced with an obviously messy house, will first sit down and make a list of everything that needs to be done to clean the house. But what does that do other than depress him with the length of the list? Just diving in and cleaning up the first mess you come to is more efficient and provides much faster positive feedback….