Color Coding is Not for Me

I love organizing things—spaces, files, thoughts, data, anything really. It gives me a sense of satisfaction and calm. It makes me happy to bring order and beauty to chaos. I have read numerous books and articles and blog posts about the best way to organize this, that, and all the other things. In all my sifting, sorting, categorizing, and prioritizing, I have learned one very important thing—color coding is not for me.

Like many organized people, I am also very detail-oriented and a bit of a perfectionist, so one of my big challenges is not getting so focused on the details that I lose connection with the bigger picture, like why I needed to organize the files/space/data, in the first place.

When I have created color coded systems I find it difficult to assign the “right” color to the “right” category. Some colors have long-standing associations already—red connotes urgency, green is money or finance (in the U.S. anyway). I don’t like orange in general so I tend to avoid it or, when I have used it, tend to avoid that category. Other colors just don’t feel right with certain categories and some colors I like so much, I just want to use them all over.

There is also the limited number of colors available in file folders, pens, Post-it notes, labels, whatever, so just when you’ve got your system set up and running smoothly, another category is needed and you’re stuck.

Any system needs to be flexible enough to grow and change when conditions do, and it needs to be intuitive enough to require little thought for the user. After all, organizing is supposed to make things flow more smoothly and make your life easier. Basically, systems need to be as simple as possible and only as complex as absolutely necessary. I prefer to skip the color coding in favor of what I call the Sesame Street school of organizing—A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s. Color coding is just not for me.


All You Have To Do Is Breathe

How often do you find yourself saying, “I have to,” whether it’s go to work, or do the laundry, or any of the dozens of things we do every day, as if it were not something you wanted to do or chose to do, but something someone else made you do? Does it make you feel rebellious or resentful or powerless?

Where in your life are you saying, “I can’t?” I can’t take time off, even though I have vacation time saved. I can’t wear my hair like that. I can’t take that pottery class or management course. I can’t sing in public. How does it feel when you tell yourself, “I can’t,” about something you want—or even something you don’t necessarily want but are saying you “can’t” as though it were not possible or forbidden for you?

What if all of these were just choices you made, things you decided to do or not do, have or not have, just for yourself, because they made your life better or added something to the world? Choosing to do or not do something is a powerful thing. There is great freedom in choosing, whatever the choice made. You don’t need to be controlled by outside forces or other people’s judgments. You may choose to do or not do something because the alternative would create a consequence you don’t want, but it is still your choice.

Notice how many times each day you say “I have to” or “I can’t” and start replacing those statements with “I choose to” or “I choose not to.” See if this doesn’t make you feel more powerful and free. What if all you have to do is breathe and everything else is a choice?