Today I was listening to a podcast on the BNI (Business Networking International) website about what the founder, Ivan Misner, called “Continuous Partial Attention.”
Misner describes “Continous Partial Attention” as paying attention to too many things at once: for example, trying to attend to a meeting while looking at your cell phone.
This in an all too commmon problem now with so many things that are in our lives – including our stuff! There is SO much stuff to pay attention to in our homes, cars and workplaces that nothing ever seems to get our full attention.
I can be just as bad, I assure you! Though my home is pretty organized, my mind jumps around a lot. And there are certain things that I have a lot of (notebooks, for example) with no central space to capture all my thoughts.
This is something important to consider when organizing for kids. I’ve talked a lot in the past about over-sorting: parenting encouraging kids to sort all their toys into tiny sets and having like things together. One example is Polly Pocket. She has her own box with tons of tiny compartments – one for shoes, one for dresses, one for skirts, one for tops, one for accessories and one for ball gowns.
Wasn’t that exhausting just to read?
When people talk about simplifying, so often they get confused. They think that “simplifying” means “over-organizing.” That is simply not the case.
To me, simplfying is about having less to take care of and less to worry about. When this is true, you are able to have less complicated organizing systems. Lots of times these less complicated systems aren’t as “pretty”, but they work so much better.
I have organized offices before and still do sometimes, but it’s not a job I take on frequently. Why? Beccause clients often have unrealistic expectations when they hire an office organizer. They think that as an office orgnaier I will be able to offer them some magical system that will automatically work.
This isn’t the case for so many reasons. When it comes to organizing offices, I break everything down into two stacks: “To Do” and “To File.” You wouldn’t believe how uncomfortable this makes some people! To simplify that much goes against what we’ve been told – that to be productive, we need to have lots of different folders, files and paths. People have been taught to break down their organizing systems so far that they spend more time sorting and classifying than doing the actual work!
I’m not saying to never break things down into small pieces – sometimes ou have to. I am saying, however, that if you already have a hard time staying organized, paying “Continuous Parital Attention” to several categories will not magically make it better. People I have seen with ten different project folders rarely fare better than those with one space that they put projects into. It’s all over the map, of course, but over-sorting rarely does anyone any good.
When it comes to your life, where is your continuous partial attention focused? Where is it focused at home? When you’re with your kids? At work?
Whatever has taken your attention all over the board, identify it – and start reflecting on how you could change it to make it work best for you.