Is your desk a total mess? Do you have thousands of unread emails? Don’t despair: it’s possible to be both disorganized and successful without changing your entire personality or embracing rigorous project-management methods that make you want to run for the hills.
“Of course it’s possible to be successful and disorganized, just as it’s possible to be organized and unsuccessful. There is no singular defining trait for success. However, in order to be disorganized and successful, you need to figure out ways to compensate for this lack,” says Alexis Haselberger, a productivity, time-management and leadership coach.
Here are a few crucial things you’ll need to embrace your messy nature while getting results at work and advancing your career.
1. Delegation and talent
“If someone is to be disorganized and successful, they often are 1) super comfortable with delegation 2) not held up by ego; they hire people to do the things they can’t do and 3) often have a very organized assistant to help them or 4) are very, very good at what they do and so other people overlook the disorganization,” says Haselberger.
“These principles are key because you’ve still got to get things done and move things forward to be successful; you’ve got to follow up and follow through.”
So delegation and talent are two critical components of being both disorganized and successful. “When people are geniuses, the people around them let a lot of other things slide,” adds Haselberger.
Keep in mind though that talent alone won’t make up for it without the right team around you and the ability to delegate effectively and get support behind your initiatives. “I think the primary habit to be leveraged is the ability to delegate and get others to help you. This is also great because it keeps you in your ‘zone of genius’ and means there might be less burnout.”
2. Rituals and tech reliance
Johann Molinari, who is now the co-founder of Popwork, an app for managers and teams, spent several years working at companies like Google and Waze. He considers himself disorganized despite his multiple management roles and career successes. His trick? Rituals and tech reliance.
If you manage others and you tend to be a less-than-organized leader, he recommends scheduling weekly one-on-one meetings with all team members and sticking to the habit religiously. “Write down the next steps at the end of each meeting to be able to follow up afterward.”
As an individual contributor, he suggests defining and knowing your top three goals for the quarter and always referring to them to prioritize deliverables.
When it comes to relying on tech, he’s a fan of the Inbox Zero method, where you clear your inbox regularly and follow up on all items promptly. “Or use the “save item” feature on Slack each time a message needs an answer,” he adds. Molinari also leverages Google Drive and has one master document with links to his 1% most important resources. And he skips the creation of folders altogether.
“Stop trying to organize decks, docs, and spreadsheets in folders: I use Google Drive and rely solely on the search filters (owner, type, keyword) for 99% of docs.”
3. Creativity and productivity
It’s possible that what you lack in organization, you make up for in other strengths, notably creativity and productivity. If so, you’ll want to lean on those attributes to increase your chances of success.
“There are plenty of studies linking disorganization to creativity and productivity, believe it or not, so I absolutely believe it is possible to be both disorganized and successful. The counterintuitive and imaginative thinking likely compensates for a lot of downsides of disorganization and gives disorganized people an advantage when it comes to idea-generation and novel ways of doing things,” according to Gergo Vari, CEO at Lensa, an international recruitment and data services company.
“Disorganized people, counterintuitively, tend to be good at organizing things quickly. If you can commit to spending the first half-hour of your day getting organized, you can set yourself up for success.”
4. Positive self-talk and people skills
Vari also says that cultivating positive self-talk is a fantastic idea for disorganized professionals. “Positive self-talk is another habit to get into as a disorganized person because disorganized people are usually optimistic about things. This translates well into good stress-management and can help avoid burnout.”
And if you end up ruffling feathers because, for example, you’re less inclined to be detail-oriented than some of your coworkers, don’t forget that diplomacy can go a long way.
“It is inevitable that your disorganization is going to end up inconveniencing your colleagues at some point. Being able to handle irritation and frustration from others empathetically and charismatically will help disorganized people in their careers,” adds Vari.