No, you needn't be a neat-freak. Indeed, people who color-code everything and create systems within systems tend to accomplish less.
But too much disorganization can leave your career on the cutting-room floor. Disorganization's cure depends on its cause. Let's figure out yours.
Divide a pie chart in proportion to what you perceive to be the causes of your disorganization:
•difficulty figuring out how to organize things
•inability to prioritize
•you thrive on chaos
•you resent authority
•you won't grow up (the Peter Pan Syndrome)
•lack of a formal organization system
•not regularly using your organization system
•being organized won't make a difference
Okay, now that you've identified the cause(s) of your disorganization, we can turn to solutions.
Good counselors realize that the best solution is the one that comes from the client. Through self-knowledge, preferences, and peccadilloes, they understand themselves better than any counselor could. Also, clients are far more likely to feel invested in their own solution. So, first off, does your pie chart suggest what you should do to make you better organized?
No? Here are solutions to consider:
Distractibility. Might any of these help? Move your desk to where there are less distractions, wear earplugs, add walls to your cubicle's side, block-out hours for work when you're less likely to be distracted, indulge some of your distractions but only for brief amounts of time.
Poor memory. Religiously write your to-dos on a list and check it frequently. Say aloud the things you need to remember. That will help lock them in your brain. Get seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Difficulty figuring out how to organize things. Ask an organized person to help you set up a system or, for a daunting project, how to break it into baby steps.
Inability to prioritize. Create a personal mission statement. Use that to help rate a task's priority: Is it important, urgent, both, or neither?
You thrive on chaos. Accept or decide that while living in chaos may have worked when you were a student or in a less demanding job, it's not serving you well now.
You resent authority. You make your choices, you gotta accept the consequences. Your call.
You won't grow up. Do you still need more time to be a kid, to be irresponsible? Or is it time to grow up? Your call.
Lack of a formal organization system. One size doesn't fit all. Want to try one of these: Google Calendar, a pencil-and-paper engagement calendar, an app such as Astrid write your to-dos in a Microsoft Word file or even---and this will give professional organizers the shivers--on little pieces of paper on your desk.
Not regularly using your organization system. If you don't use it, you'll lose it. Make it a habit, to write everything down on your to-do list and to check it throughout the day.
Being organized won't make a difference. Your life sucks and you feel that being more organized would simply be rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Unless you have stage five cancer, it really isn't hopeless. Improving your life is like climbing a big hill. If you look up, it's so daunting you'll probably want to just pop a brewski and hang out at the bottom. But if you keep your head down and focus on taking that next step, you'll soon look back down and be surprised at how far you've come.
Depression. Mild to moderate depression is often best addressed by replacing self-absorption and introspection with productivity and a greater focus on the needs of others rather than your own. Exercise may also help. If those are insufficient, try a few sessions of cognitive therapy Serious depression (read, you can't get out of bed,) requires professional help.
If none of those work, perhaps you aren't correctly perceiving your disorganization's cause(s.) Ask a trusted colleague or friend, or even a professional organizer. Here's a directory of them (http://www.napo.net/%28X%281%29S%28aiegmi550q2ahq45wzcw2hun%29%29/referral/default.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1). But beware if they urge you to focus on color-coding.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.