By Tara Bruss, Assistive Technology Specialist, PACER’s Simon Technology Center
Ethan is an intelligent adult who is capable of living independently and maintaining employment. His biggest complaint is that he has a difficult time keeping track of his important papers, notes and making it to his appointments on time. A typical day for Ethan begins in a rush to make it to work on time. He feels that something almost always seems to come up or go wrong and delays him.
At work, Ethan stares at the mound of paperwork on his desk and tries to identify where to begin. He spends some time digging through to find the notes he thought he wrote to himself the other day. Not succeeding, he proceeds by selecting the first item on the pile to work on. A few hours later a co-worker comes by and asks how his latest project is going. Ethan panics as he remembers his project deadline later that afternoon. He changes his focus to this project as he again begins digging through the pile.
Ethan works furiously and finishes a few minutes past deadline and makes a mad dash to the location where he must present his project. He arrives late and appears a little scattered. He composes himself and delivers a great presentation of his project, but with much stress leading up to the event and a poor first impression.
If this sounds like someone you know, you realize how essential organization skills are for daily living. Yet many people who have a full toolbox of these skills are at a loss as how to help them-selves or someone else develop a successful organization plan. Skills and abilities closely connected to organization, such as memory and the ability to maintain focus, are also crucial to a person’s ability to be effective and efficient in daily living and to accomplish long-term goals. While organization is a skill that can be difficult to teach and to learn, there are tools and strategies that can help individuals create habits and a system that works for them.
Some individuals with particular disabilities generally have a difficult time with organization skills. For example, individuals with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) may have a hard time focusing their attention and may benefit from a reminder or an interval alarm system. Someone who has traumatic brain injury (TBI) may need an electronic agenda or planner with alarms and notifications. When developing an organization strategy or system of tools, the most important factors to consider are the individual’s needs, strengths, environments, goals, and preferences.
As with most skills, the learning process begins when individuals realize their need for new skills and how those new skills can help them reach their goals and build on their strengths.
To get started, individuals can first define:
- their organization goal
- the environment(s) in which the strategy will take place
- the time at which the strategy will take place
- which tools to use
- how the tools will be used to help implement the strategy
Starting small with simple strategies is the first step. It’s also important to establish patterns and routines for any organization strategy, practice it consistently, and monitor the progress to see if the strategy is helping to reach his or her organization goals. Rewarding (by ones-self or someone else) an individual for practicing a new strategy can be an effective motivation. As individuals begin to practice an organization strategy, they may need reminders. At first it may be acceptable for reminders to come from a person, but only for a very limited time. If individuals need recurring reminders, they will want to use a tool, or memory aid, to gain independence and ownership over their skills.
The next step is to gain independence in remembering or using memory aids, and initiating the strategy. As an individual continues to practice a particular organization strategy, it will become a habit, lessening the cognitive load of planning, remembering, and processing through the strategy.
To develop a skill, it’s important to schedule appointed time(s) within each day to work on it. For example, an individual may want to schedule a 15-minute time slot in the morning, mid-day and again in the later afternoon to review the day’s schedule and tasks. During this time, individuals can also note any changes that need to be made. Creating templates specific to an individual’s needs may also be helpful. Some examples include: checklists of all materials needed for an activity, task lists for a transition time such as what to do when first entering or leaving a specified room, and checklists for recurring tasks.
Six Life Categories to Consider
The following categories help define different elements of a person’s life that are affected by organization skills:
- Environmental/spatial: the positioning of physical surroundings; the location and placement of objects.
- Task planning/executing: planning and executing steps to accomplish clearly defined goals (examples: doing laundry, cleaning the bedroom, completing projects).
- Event planning/executing: planning and executing an event held on a set date and time involving coordination of people, places, and things.
- Time management: planning and executing a schedule, appointments and maintaining timeliness.
- Information: storing and saving information in locations where it is easy and relevant to retrieve.
- Writing composition: arranging thoughts and research into sequential, coherent written communication.
Of course, these categories can and often do affect one another. Effective organization of one category may also require effective organization of an additional category. If you were coordinating an event, for example, you would also need to be mindful of time management. Helpful tools, such as an audio notetaker, a calendar app, bins and tubs, or a Smartpen, may also be appropriate for more than one category.
- Electronic Tools & Resources for Reading, Writing & Organization
- Organization Category Descriptions
- Organization Tools Matrix
- Organization Tools Matrix Addendum
- Organization Tools Web Sites
- Organization Apps Android and Blackberry
- Organization Apps iOS Apple
Stay tuned for parts two and three, which will offer practical strategies and tools for each organization category.