Keeping things in sight and in mind: A low cost and effective way to get organised

Have you ever had the feeling that there was something you had to do but you couldn’t quite put your finger on it?

Whenever you put a project away in a drawer or cupboard, there’s a good chance you’ll forget about it. In short, closed storage/filing systems don’t work for everyone, especially students with ADHD. It’s best to avoid them.

As Abigail Levrini and Frances Prevatt, authors of the brilliant book Succeeding with Adult ADHD, state:

“Because of distractability and forgetfulness, people with ADHD struggle with keeping track of anything that doesn’t jump out at them visually.”

So what’s the alternative?

Keep things in sight and in mind.

Use open storage systems (e.g., open bookshelves or pigeonhole units) and/or clear containers with labels. This way you can easily keep track of all your projects.

Why do open storage systems and clear containers works so well?

Here are five reasons:

1. In one glance, you can see everything you need to do.
2. All of your projects are located in one spot (you can save time not having to run around the house searching for things).
3. You feel more organised and in control of what you need to do each day.
4. There are less barriers to getting started (you pick up a project and away you go).
5. When you’ve finished working on a project, you can put it away so it doesn’t clutter up your study space.

Below is one example of an open storage system:

It’s a pigeonhole unit. It’s nothing fancy but it does the job at storing various projects. The most important projects are located at the top and the least important at the bottom.

Alternatively, you can use simple boxes. In her book, The Creative Habit, dance choreographer Twyla Tharp writes about how she assigns each project to a different box. She states:

“Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files. I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.”

She goes onto state:

“There are separate boxes for everything I’ve ever done. If you want a glimpse into how I think and work, you could do worse than to start with my boxes.

The box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet.

It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work.

The box makes me feel connected to a project. It is my soil. I feel this even when I’ve back-burnered a project: I may have put the box away on a shelf, but I know it’s there. The project name on the box in bold black lettering is a constant reminder that I had an idea once and may come back to it very soon.

Most important, though, the box means I never have to worry about forgetting. One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn’t write it down and put it in a safe place. I don’t worry about that because I know where to find it. It’s all in the box…

They’re easy to buy, and they’re cheap…They’re one hundred percent functional; they do exactly what I want them to do: hold stuff. I can write on them to identify their contents… I can move them around… When one box fills up, I can easily unfold and construct another. And when I’m done with the box, I can ship it away out of sight, out of mind, so I can move on to the next project, the next box.”

Where should you put your open storage system?

It’s a good idea to locate your open storage system outside your study space but still close by. If you can see all your projects while you’re working on a particular project, it can lead to life paralysis. You get overwhelmed. And nothing gets done.

But if all your projects (except the one you’re currently working on) are located just out of sight, you can give the current project the full attention it deserves. You can say to yourself, “For the next 25 minutes, this is all my mind needs to focus on”.

Once you’ve finished working on the project for the day, you can file it away and pick up another project easily.

Should you choose clear containers, an open bookshelf or a pigeonhole unit for your open storage system?

This comes down to personal preference and what you think will work best for you.

I considered buying 15 – 20 big boxes from the Reject Shop at $5 a pop. But ultimately decided I would get a lot more mileage out of a pigeonhole. (It also takes up far less space and makes me feel less like someone who would feature on the show Hoarder Next Door.)

Whether you go for clear containers, an open bookshelf or a pigeonhole unit like I have, it doesn’t really matter. What matters most is that all your projects are in one place, you can capture and store items and bits of information for each project, and you can efficiently access what you need.

How do you manage all your schoolwork, projects and assignments? Do you think an open-storage system could work for you?