THE BLOG
04/29/2013 02:17 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2013

The Secret Damage to You From Being Disorganized

"Well, at least I enjoyed a good cup of tea."

That was the only silver lining I could find.

I've contemplated this upcoming topic before, but I've never publicly shared my thoughts... until now. I knew I needed to contribute to the conversation as I drove home with the gears spinning wildly in my head.

Here's the deal:

I was scheduled to meet a new friend at a coffee shop in his neck of the woods. It was inconvenient to meet him at 7:45 in the morn' and drive 20-plus minutes to get there, too.

But I'm a generous and flexible guy who wants to make getting together easy, especially in a growing relationship. So I told my wife Melinda that she would have to do my morning routine with our son Grant instead and make a small sacrifice for me. No problem. She's a gamer and a helluva team player.

Back to meeting my new friend. I showed up at the coffee shop five minutes early, ordered my Mighty Leaf Ginger Twist tea, and took a seat.

7:45 comes and goes with no friend showing up yet. 8:00 hits and I send him an email saying I'm sticking around another 10 minutes.

As 8:15 rolls around and I haven't heard from him, I'm outta there.

So I drove home and started assessing the hidden collateral damage imposed by the failure of a basic organizational skill: putting a confirmed meeting in your calendar and then having a system to make sure you show up.

Because this isn't a story about a grave injury to me. This is a familiar tale about the costs of disorganization and an exploration of what secret damage is inflicted because of it.

Organizing and Systems are Sexy

There are definite downsides to being better organized than just about everyone else. Unless I'm meeting systems and organizing geniuses like Laura Wittman, Shanna Mann, or Michelle Nickolaisen, odds are I'm bringing the best organizing skills to the table.

In fact, I'd say my unofficial "getting stood up : standing up someone else" ratio is about 20:1.

This doesn't make me feel morally or ethically superior because I rock the unsexy sides of life. I'm used to the downsides of being something -- or not being something -- that everyone else is (or isn't). Such is the life of a counter-cultural minimalist, paleo enthusiast, spreadsheet fanatic, and experience curator.

So let's discover the measurable and hidden price of getting stood up this time by the forces of disorganization.

Actual Cost to Me:

  • Dollars: $5.16. That's $3.00 for gas to drive to and from the coffee shop and the $2.16 I paid for my cup of tea.
  • Lost sleep: 15 minutes
  • Lost work time: 75 minutes total. That's 45 minutes driving to and from the coffee shop (in the literally freezing rain) and 30 minutes spent waiting for someone who didn't show up.

Hidden Cost to Others:

  • Lost sleep for my pregnant wife: 15 minutes
  • Rushed breakfasts and rushed people getting ready for work: two each
  • Lost productivity of wife at work: 30 minutes
  • Struggles with toddler putting on jacket because papa wasn't around to do it: one experience

This Is Just a Microcosm

There are plenty of ways that our collective disorganization is inflicting secret collateral damage all around us. You might never realize it the toll of too much chaos, but the people impacted and their overall environment certainly do.

Do you want to reveal how our chaotic lives and failure to maintain basic organizing systems is draining us? Here are some examples:

  1. Search the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) stats database. You'll find research showing parents spend an estimated 23 percent of their time outside of work coordinating their children's and family's schedules. If that's not crazy enough, 30 percent of all employees' time is spent trying to find lost documents.
  2. Read anything in this Professional Organizers Hand Guide
  3. Listen to an episode of Simple Life Together, like this one with Joshua Becker

That's just tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. So what's the solution?

You could annoy or insult everyone with constant check-ins to ensure they do what they should or could. Personally, that doesn't sound appealing.

You could also get mad, cast blame, and make other people feel bad, but I'd rather not.

How about we create a rising tide to lift all boats. Let's bring everyone's organizational level up instead of constantly penalizing them for letting chaos reign. Let's share organizing resources and tools to better equip our friends, family, and society.

And let's stay aware of the hidden collateral damage when we unintentionally disrespect someone and waste their precious resources due to a lack of adequate systems.

Moral of the Story

We're all occasionally responsible for wasted time of spouses, kids, and others outside of our awareness. Can we still do our best to make sure we have the best "getting stood up : standing up someone else" ratio around? You freakin' bet!

I do it through spreadsheets and a curating systems, but you'll probably do it another way. It doesn't matter what it looks like.

Just make it happen.

Otherwise, you'll never know how deep and how often your collateral damage hits an innocent bystander. And you'll never know the impact it causes on your relationships, the health of people you like and love, and the time or money that we all work so hard to spend and protect.

What do you think? Am I being too dramatic or overhyping the problem from disorganized people?

For more by Joel Zaslofsky, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.