Being Organized as a Negative Trait & Learning to Say No

I recently read two posts from Penelope Loves Lists that resonated with me deeply. 

The first, “I’m ‘Overly Organized’ and Other Myths We Tell Ourselves,” gives voice to something I have come across so often, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve experienced it.  I highly recommend reading the original post to get the full picture, but the main idea is that being organized is often seen in a negative light.  And the question is, why is that?  Moreover, why do we accept it?

The post highlights certain words that are often used to describe those of us who are organized, words such as controlling, perfectionist, anal, OCD, neat freak, worry wart, and rigid, among others.  All of the above have been used to refer to my personality and not necessarily in a good way.

While many people are in awe at my organizational and time management skills, many of those people also see these things as a downfall.  They seem to feel that being so holds me back to a certain extent, mainly because it doesn’t allow me to be flexible and to go just “go with the flow.”  What they don’t realize that “going with the flow” is built into a personality.  It’s not something we just decide to do, though of course it can be done that way.  Try as we might, going with the flow doesn’t come naturally.  It’s something that we need to be conscious of and actually work at.  Our minds are built in a different way.  It’s not wrong—despite what others may think—it’s just different.

For the record, I am rigid about my own tasks and timeline.  I like everything to be just so.  I like hammering out my tasks and schedule for the day because it helps me to focus and to stay focused.  But that doesn’t mean that I expect everyone else to be the same way.  Some people can’t work that way; they can only function by having piles of paper in front of them as a reminder that it needs to be done.  Some people can leave their desks messy and still accomplish their tasks.  Just as it is with me, it’s not wrong; it’s just different.  I do think, however, that people assume that my rigidness with myself automatically means that I’m rigid with others.  The reality is that if I’m working on a deadline, I need to plan when and how the task will be accomplished because that’s how I work.  If someone wants something done, I can’t just drop what I’m doing to do what they want done, when they want it done without disrupting my current workflow.  And that is where my inflexibility comes in—it’s not so much about not being flexible for them, but about being rigid and following my own plan to get my own tasks done.  Just as they want me to understand where they’re coming from, they need to understand where I’m coming from.

Ironically, though, even with this negative connotation built into to being organized, these same people know what I can and will accomplish my tasks and that it will be done well.  I don’t take on things I know I can’t give my all or complete.  I don’t do anything half-assed.  That’s just how I am.  So when people want something done, quickly and thoroughly, they come to me because they know they can trust me to complete the task from start to finish—and then some, if you include projecting how the completed tasks will play out (or not) once they’ve been completed.  I try to think of all scenarios that will result from my tasks so that I can better determine the appropriate path to accomplish my goals.  Most people don’t think beyond what’s right in front of them.  And that’s not bad, per se.  But it could result in more work down the line.  I try to combat that from the beginning.  So if that is being controlling, then yes, I am controlling.  But people just might benefit from that in the end, so really it’s a win for them and shouldn’t be considered negative.

My family and friends and I often joke about my being OCD, that I have to have everything lined up just right, and everything planned out.  For the most part, it is a joke for me.  Yes, I am certainly that way.  In many cases it’s a good thing, though many people see it as a bad thing and use it against me: “You need to learn to let go;”  “You need to go with the flow more often;”  “You need to be less structured;” on and on.  In many ways, they are right.  I do need those things.  But I also need to be who I am.  Being flexible is not who I am.  Trying to add more flexibility into my life is something I can accomplish.  But my level of flexibility will be different from someone else’s.

What no one understands (other than those who are just like me) is that it is a struggle for me to be those things.  I do want to allow for more flexibility, to let go of my perfectionistic ways, to throw caution to the wind and just ride out the day.  But it doesn’t come naturally to me, so I have to spend more energy on it than someone else.  And one way to do that is to make a plan for it, to create a list of things I know I can accomplish (to say that I’ve accomplished something for the day) and scheduling in time to relax (because without scheduling it, it just won’t happen).

When people act as if my personality traits of being organized and scheduled and task-driven are bad, that only adds pressure and stress for me.  I’m already telling myself I “need” to let go.  Listening to others tell me that the way I live my life is “bad” just makes me more focused on what I am versus what I “should” be.  Yet, it doesn’t work the other way around—if I tell people they “should” or “need” to be more structured, it just wouldn’t go over well.  And while I don’t care what the general public thinks of me, I do worry about tainting my relationship with friends and family.

Several years ago, I did a quick Myers-Briggs personality test, which said that I focus more on my relationships than the issue at hand.  So, for example, if I have an argument with someone, I worry about how that argument will affect my relationship with the person, while the other person tends to focus on the argument itself.  I worry that what I said or did will change how the person feels about me and so I would rather take the blame or let go of what I want in order to keep the peace, to maintain the relationship.  I always try to fix the issue because I’m afraid that our relationship will be broken because of the argument.  This is not a typical mentality.  Most people will have an argument, be focused on the argument, but are also able to let it go because they know that the argument will not affect the relationship.  It is in this way that I am a people-pleaser.

Which brings me to the second article from Penelope Loves Lists.

This article is about learning—or giving yourself permission—to say no.  One of my biggest downfalls is not being able to say no when someone asks me to take on something new.  I can’t say no because I fear it will affect our relationship.  Realistically, this isn’t true.  But it’s always something that comes to my mind when someone asks me to do something.

Saying no is something that I have been working on for ages, and while I have made a lot of progress, I still find myself caught in that quagmire of wanting but not willing to say no once in a while.  Of course, this all depends on what it is and who is asking and how much of my time it will take.  My general rule for accepting (or not) responsibilities put before me is telling them that I will think about it and get back to them.  The reason for this is because I really need to weigh whether or not this is something that I truly want to take on.  Many times I will accept because I have the time, meaning my schedule allows for it.  But just because my schedule allows for it doesn’t mean it won’t drain me of my mental or emotional energy.  Or maybe it’s just not something I’m interested in.  Giving myself that cushion of time to think about it really lets me think about all of the ways in which it will affect me.  (See, there’s that thinking down the line trait that I mentioned above.)

I tend to be a people pleaser anyway simply because I enjoy helping others.  But the reality (and I’ve learned this the hard way, many times over) is that the more you give, the more people take.  And more often than not, they take without (true) thanks.  In the end, they get what they want, and I am left with nothing but feeling drained.  I have experienced all too often that people will ask for my help or expect things from me but will not give their time in return when I ask.  So I’m learning—very slowly—to not over-give, especially for people who I know would not give in return. 

Learning to say no—while it goes against my getting things done mentality—needs to be done for my own sanity.  Saying no might be seen as being inflexible in regards to helping others out, but I need to let go of any negative connotation for any of my personality traits because the reality is that someone will always be displeased no matter what; you can’t please everyone.

Learning and making my life be about me—the me that I am, not the me that others think I should be—is the ultimate goal in the end.  If I am not happy, I cannot fully help others.  So it’s high time I start being as selfish as I need to be in order to make these things happen.


  1. I was very moved by your post and have some thoughts I'd like to share with you.
    I come across this sort of thing all the time. Other people are not like me and I am not like them but somehow they seem to be giving me the message that I need to change and be who they are.

    We never NEVER have to apologise for being just the way we are made. You say that it's a struggle just to 'let go' ... and that's because it is for you. Imagine a dog trying to teach a cat to bark or a cat trying to teach a hamster to climb trees? Can you imagine the conversation?
    "You just have to try harder..." "But it's so difficult, it doesn't come naturally" "See! I can do it, It's easy. Be more like me"


    Rather than trying to defend your uniqueness, can I encourage you to embrace it? It's how you're wired, it's how you think and act naturally, just do it because it's who you are. We will never be like anyone else because we're not SUPPOSED to be. Of course you're miserable trying not to being the organised person you naturally are. You can't do that any more than they could succeed at be more organised. It's like trying to knit fog!

    Remember this "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken"

    As a post script, can I also encourage you to push through in saying 'no' when you need to. You seem to be very clued up as to who you are as a person (Myers-Briggs is a great tool for this). People don't like us more when we say yes when we shouldn't. They just think of us as an easy way to help them get what they want done and sometimes they're just being selfish. Of course you like to help people, but sometimes we're not helping them. We might even be an enabler (depending on the situation). It's tough. Everyone wants people to like them. Just don't give up making the progress you say that you are. Keep going in the same direction.

    I hope this has helped you - even a bit.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Maxine. You are 100% correct!

      I don't apologize for who I am, though it probably does sound that way. I guess it's more of a question as to why it's me that "needs" to change and not others. It's like being an introvert (which I also am). For whatever reason, it's seen as something negative. But it's not, just different from how most people are. But the truth is, the world needs both organized and introverted people because without them, there would be nothing to compare the disorganized (or "normal") and extroverted people to. Everyone would be the same, would work the same, would think the same, would act the same. And that's boring, not to mention that things wouldn't get done.

      I do embrace who I am, but I also understand that most people don't understand (and therefore don't accept without question) who I am. And that is where my uncertainty comes into play -- why on earth is this so "bad?"

      As for saying no...I am slowly (oh, so slowly) learning to say no. I'm also in the process of telling myself why I need to say no (because I don't have time, because it wouldn't be done for you, etc.), and that seems to be working. I agree that we don't do people any favors by always saying yes. They don't learn to do these things for themselves. And of course, people always ask because they have gotten used to our saying yes and then get annoyed when we finally say no. So there's that little piece to deal with, too. Eventually, it will all work itself out -- I will be able to say no without any guilt whatsoever and people will accept that that's how it is. In a perfect world, anyway. ;)

  2. Thank you for this. It's thought provoking, but at 7:16 a.m., my brain isn't awake yet. Will definitely come back for another read.

    1. I agree -- nothing makes that much sense that early in the morning. :) Thanks for your comment!

  3. This really spoke to me, especially the internal feelings about organized being a negative thing. :( I feel that all the time.

    1. Yeah, I really don't get why this is seen as negative. After all, as most of us know, being organized helps us to be efficient.

  4. As someone who has known you for a long time, I don't see anything negative about your ability to organize. In fact, I know I can always count on you! I know there were people who took advantage of that, but for those of us who appreciate you and respect you, your organization abilities (in all parts of your life) are a rare and wonderful gift! <3

    1. I don't think the negativity has so much to do with my organizing skills, so much as I'm seen as unyielding and/or rigid in order to keep everything "just so." And this is how I am -- with myself. But I am not this way towards others, but I think there's an assumption that I am, that all organized/"OCD" people are this way.

      Thank you for your support! :)

    2. Oh yes, that's what I meant by that. I think people see what they perceive to be too much organization as rigid and unyielding. Like so many things in life, if it's not effecting you (and it's not harming the other person), just let them be! People. Geez! ;)

    3. Oh, yes. And while I'm "too organized" and rigid, they come to me when they want something done because they know I'll do it, and do it well. Like most things in life: you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't.


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