Organizing Disorganized People

Motivating Your Team to Change

Organizing Disorganized People - Motivating Your Team to Change

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Encourage disorganized people to get organized.

Imagine this scenario: after a week of hard work, you send an important report to your colleague. His task is to edit the wording and make a few key decisions to finalize some of the content. The deadline is still three weeks away, but you hope he'll finish it early because you'll have more work to do once he gives you his input. Your colleague, however, delays making the changes.

After numerous reminders from you, he sends it back the day before your deadline. This means that you have to rush to complete your final changes in time. His delay has caused you some serious stress, and it's not the first time that this has happened.

Working with disorganized people can be a stressful experience, especially when it starts impacting your own productivity. But what can you do about it? Is it your responsibility to help them get organized? If yes, how do you do it tactfully?

In this article, we'll look at how to help other people get organized. Whether they're colleagues, team members, or even your manager, we'll explore strategies to help you to help them.

Finding the Cause

Before you begin looking for solutions, take time to discover why they are disorganized. Ask the following questions:

  • Do they understand why it's important to be organized?
  • Do they feel that organizing isn't important? If so, they could be habitually disorganized. Perhaps they don't see their disorganization as a problem for themselves, so they believe it isn't a problem for anyone else. You'll need to make them aware of how their disorganization impacts you.
  • Are they going through situational disorganization? This occurs when a person experiences a traumatic or one-time situation or event. For example, a new job or promotion, divorce, death of a family member, or time-consuming project can all cause sudden disorganization.
  • Do they "thrive" on their disorganization? Some people sub-consciously create chaos and "artificial emergencies" to keep themselves interested in what they're doing. They feel that they work best under tight deadlines, and they may even get an "adrenaline buzz" from them.
  • Do they have a medical condition that can cause moderate to severe disorganization? Depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder (ADD), or even a long-term illness could be a cause. If you suspect that someone has a medical condition that isn't being treated, talk to the person about seeking medical help.

Once you've identified why you think the individual is disorganized, try some of the strategies below to help.

Lack of Knowledge

If people don't know about being organized, or why they should bother to be more organized, this could be a fairly easy fix.

  • Express your concerns – Start by letting them know that you're concerned about their disorganization. You want to see them succeed, but you believe that their disorganization will hold them back.
  • Focus on the benefits of organization – Your colleagues might not want to invest the time or effort to change, so make sure you stress the benefits of organization. Let them know they'll likely have less stress, more time, and higher productivity if they spend the time now to get organized. Also, being organized can open the doors to some great opportunities in the future.


Point colleagues to our article How to Be Organized. This is a comprehensive guide to getting organized at work, and it might be all they need to make some positive changes in their lives.

Lack of Motivation

If you suspect that a person is simply unmotivated to get organized, then you need to make them realize how much their chaotic work style affects you and others.

  • Make it clear that the disorganization is causing you stress – Mention specific examples from past situations where their disorganization impacted you in a negative way. Knowing how their actions affect you may motivate them to change.
  • Explain the benefits of organization as it relates to them – For instance, if your colleague always submits his projects late, then let him know that this reflects poorly on him professionally. If he ever wants a promotion or increased responsibilities, he must get organized.
  • Find out why they're unmotivated – For example, perhaps you need a statistics report from your colleague on the 15th of every month, and she never submits the report on time. Once you start asking her about it, she tells you that she hates doing the report because she doesn't feel confident about statistics, so she regularly delays working on it. Some extra training might be all that's needed to give her the knowledge she needs to feel comfortable doing this task on time.
  • Discipline, if necessary – If you manage people whose disorganization impacts their performance – and coaching or training does not lead to improvement – you might need to take disciplinary action.

Organizing Your Manager

When it's your manger who's disorganized, the situation can be difficult.

It's tempting to just do key tasks for them to save yourself the stress caused by their disorganization. If you're their personal assistant, or if you were hired specifically for your organizational skills, this may be fine.

However, if this isn't your job, then doing the work for your manager only adds to your current workload and stress level. It also may motivate them to continue with their disorganized habits.

So what can you do?

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Start by bringing the issue to your manager's attention. Perhaps they truly don't realize that their bad habits have a negative effect on you and the rest of the team.

You can also help your manager get organized by putting in place some of these systems that make communication and work easier:

  • Use color-coded files – These help organize work that's transferred between people. For instance, put items that are urgent in red folders, items that need signatures in green folders, items that need reviewing in blue folders, and so on. If everything goes into the same type of folder, important things and unimportant things are mixed together. But a color-coded system helps your manager to remember what action they need to take on each item.
  • Use descriptive subject lines in emails – When you send emails to your manager, make sure the subject line communicates essential information that can be easily identified later. Remember, the subject line is just like a headline! It must communicate crucial information and grab attention.

    For more information on writing strategic subject lines, see our article Writing Effective Emails. (Consider asking if it would be helpful to put "please do by" dates in the subject lines – your manager may find this useful!)

  • Limit choices – Many disorganized people have a tough time making decisions. If this is the case with your manager, then limit their choices so that decisions are easier. For instance, if they're going to travel to a conference, don't list six potential hotels. Instead, list three hotels that you think are best. Limiting choices helps people feel less overwhelmed and better able to cope with making a decision.

More Tips for Organizing

Sometimes, a few small changes in your own working style make a big difference when working with a disorganized co-worker or manager. Try these tips:

  • Package information together – If you send a series of separate emails, on the same subject and over several days, these can easily get lost or separated from each other. But if you combine essential information in one document (either electronic or on paper), it's easier to keep that information together.
  • Schedule accordingly – Consider people's levels of disorganization when you schedule things. This means that if you need something from them, ask for it as soon as you know you need it. Allow yourself plenty of time whenever you're depending on them for anything, and set early deadlines for delivery of work to allow for their disorganization.
  • Bring in an expert on organization – A great speaker can make your team members realize why they need to get organized, and give them strategies to take action.
  • Set organization goals – If you manage disorganized people, it could be helpful to set organization goals as performance targets. Let them know that you'll measure their efforts at their next performance appraisal.
  • Praise efforts – Any time you see your colleagues making progress, make sure you praise their efforts, no matter how small. If you let them know how their efforts to get organized are helping, you might keep them motivated to continue.

Key Points

Working with disorganized colleagues, team members, or managers can be stressful, especially when their bad habits affect your schedule. Find out why people are disorganized to help you decide how to approach the situation.

If lack of knowledge is the issue, then educate them about the benefits of getting organized. If motivation's the problem, show how their disorganization affects you and the rest of the team. You can also help them by using strong subject lines and combining information in emails, allowing for extra time, and bringing in an organization expert to coach the group.


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