Whether a person tends to be unorganized or organized has a big impact on their work style, productivity, and results. But it’s not a case of just slobs vs. neat freaks. Most of us fall somewhere on a spectrum between unorganized and organized employees, and there are pros and cons to both styles of working.
Let’s take a look at what it means to be organized at work (or not!) and how this personality trait affects an employee’s performance in the workplace.
What is an unorganized personality?
At their most extreme, unorganized employees may forget about meetings (or show up late), miss deadlines, and lose track of assignments. A messy desk is another sign of a disorganized employee.
But many employees who tend towards being disorganized won’t be that extreme, and the most successful will have found ways to cope with their tendency towards disorganization. For example, a naturally disorganized employee might rely on writing everything down in a calendar, taking good notes during meetings, or setting reminders for themselves about big deadlines.
In fact, some of the world’s best thinkers have had famously messy desks (think: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs).
Disorganized people are often more focused on the big picture rather than small details, so they can be very creative thinkers who bring a fresh perspective to the workplace.
What are the characteristics of an unorganized worker?
There are varying degrees of disorganization, and most people who tend towards disorganization won’t exhibit all of these signs. However, you likely are working with a disorganized coworker if you notice:
- The employee has a messy desk or workspace.
- You have to remind the employee about important tasks and deadlines.
- The person is often late, or sometimes misses meetings, even if their schedule isn’t full.
- They rely on a calendar and reminders, not because they enjoy being orderly, but because it’s a strategy for dealing with their disorganized tendencies.
- They grow frustrated with rigid systems of organization if it affects their natural workflow.
How to work with an unorganized person
Working with an unorganized person can look very different depending on the person’s role, level, experience, and other personality traits. Here are some ideas you can keep in mind when managing a disorganized employee.
How to train an unorganized person
How to motivate an unorganized person
- Make sure the information is easy to find. Notes and write-ups can be really helpful for disorganized employees to refer back to, but they need to be easily accessible.
- Consider a central wiki, employee handbook, or training resource rather than sending out one-off emails or hard copies.
How to give feedback to an unorganized person
- Help them understand how the little details and tasks fit in with the big picture. Project timelines and checklists can help make it clear how everything fits together.
- Allow unorganized people opportunities to be unorganized when it doesn’t impact others or the project. If they’re turning things in on time and communicating clearly, think about whether you really need them to adopt additional organization strategies or if it just comes down to preference or work style.
- Harvard Business Review recommends reflecting on the real impact of the disorganization. Missed deadlines have a real business cost, but if a messy desk just bothers you personally, you may need to let it go.
- Make it clear when there is a cost to the disorganization. For example, if the employee is constantly behind schedule getting work done for another team, let them know the impact that has on the other team’s schedule.
- When you follow up on problems, ask: “How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?” The answer should be a concrete solution (like setting additional reminders or using a different way to track organization), rather than a vague “do better next time.”
- Make sure to have regular one-on-one check-ins. Afterwards, send a follow-up email with the main points and action items — or ask the employee to complete that step. This type of help leaves a paper trail of feedback and clearly outlines expectations.
What is the opposite of an unorganized person?
On the other end of the spectrum, you have people with employees who are organized.
What is an organized personality?
Just as disorganized people fall along a spectrum, so do organized people. The typical organized person is neat, prompt, and detail-oriented. They tend to show up to meetings on time (or five minutes early). They’re able to keep track of complicated systems and large amounts of data.
At their most extreme, organized people may fall into “perfectionist” tendencies that cause them to lose sight of the bigger picture or fail to prioritize efficiently. However, organization is often a big asset that makes employees more effective, reliable, and in-control.
Many highly organized people are Type D personalities. (Read more about the four personality types here.)
What are the characteristics of an organized worker?
Here are a few signs that an employee tends to be organized:
- The employee’s desk or workspace is neat and tidy.
- You don’t have to remind them of deadlines, tasks, or procedures.
- They have a system for most information they deal with, whether that’s on paper, in a spreadsheet, or following another method.
How to work with an organized person
Organized people can bring big benefits to their teams when they’re well supported and given the space they need to keep on top of their own organization.
How to train an organized person
How to motivate an organized person
- Be organized yourself. If you jump all over a topic, don’t allow time for notes (or provide notes), or don’t have all the right materials on hand, organized people will have a hard time focusing on the content of what you’re saying.
- Be sure to emphasize priorities. If certain tasks are of low importance and can be pushed back or stopped when other deadlines are approaching, for example, make this clear. Organized people are more likely to stress over getting it all done on time.
How to give feedback to an organized person
- Organized people need the time, space, and resources required to be organized. They work best when they have the time they need to get their ducks in a row.
- Project timelines and completion checklists are a great way to keep your entire team on-task, but an organized person will be especially motivated by checking off the steps in order.
- Organized people are often detail-oriented and may lose sight of the forest for the trees. In feedback, be sure to take a step back and talk about how smaller tasks contribute to a whole.
- Organized people are more likely to be perfectionists. If so, they may need feedback on time management and clarity on prioritization. If they do a low-importance task that just needs to be “good enough” and they do it to perfection, but it’s not a good use of time and resources, make sure to address that issue. Be clear that the quality of the work isn’t an issue (quite the opposite), but that it’s about using resources efficiently.
Which is a better worker: someone who is unorganized vs. organized?
While we tend to think of being disorganized as a negative, there are many roles where these employees will thrive. And if your workplace culture involves a lot of change and an ability to thrive in chaos, the disorganized person might be a better fit!
On the other hand, there are also many roles where organization skills really are crucial — or where an organized person will be a lot happier. For example, an executive assistant’s tasks are all about organization, details, and follow-through.
For most roles, an organized or disorganized personality trait shouldn’t be your main criteria. However, knowing which way your candidates trend can help you ask the right questions, especially if the role demands a high level of organization.
It also depends on what other personality traits the person has. Read our other personality trait descriptions for a more complete picture.
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