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Organización in Buenos Aires

written by Dana Arakawa 14 October 2009

Dana Arakawa, MAPP '06, has a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Hawaii. Before venturing into psychology, Dana graduated with honors from Georgetown University with a B.S. in International Economics, and spent a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Her research has appeared in the Gallup Management Journal and International Coaching Psychology Review, as well as in publications in Latin America. Full bio. Dana's articles are here.

My experiences in Buenos Aires thus far have been speaking to me with a persistent message: “Dana, be proactive and self-motivated!” This message has sometimes come in a whisper, and this time when I failed to hear its subtle call, it built up into a shout. Through a series of miscommunications, my supervisor was upset at me, and the cause of the situation predominately lay in my then-underdeveloped ability to be proactive and self-motivated.

I sat with my friend Dominica in a café, telling her about this problem. I could feel my energy draining as I recounted the details of the situation, getting lost in feelings of anger and disappointment. As I look back on it now, I was starting to feel pessimistic, which can become a slippery slope to hopelessness. As Seligman defines pessimism, my negative thoughts were taking on the tune of “me, always, everything” as I sat there ruminating on my perceived inability to be proactive and self-motivated in any situation (which I can see now just isn’t true!).

To-do list

To-do list

Organization as the Skill of Proactivity

Just as I finished the last detail of the story, Dominica whipped out her planner and notebook, and commenced a whirl of list-making, prioritizing, and date-setting. We isolated my tasks, we set deadlines, we created ways for me to be held accountable for my projects. And as I sat there with things written out in front of me, I noticed how much better I felt. My pessimism had been alchemized into optimism, my energy was back, and I felt empowered again.

There’s something amazing about the way that getting organized can help us to feel empowered and focused. This phenomenon has translated into an industry of organization, both of physical and mental space. Day-planners (both ‘old-fashioned’ and newer electronic means), container stores, and even the ancient art of feng-shui could be described as a way of manipulating our space to positive effect. The act of organizing is a powerful tool to regain a sense of control, opening the door and creating space for proactivity and self-motivation to flourish. For example, a long-ago study of college women found that both resume writing and goal-setting helped the women sense more locus of control, and regain an ability to be in charge of their lives.

Is Organization a Character Strength?

dailyplannerI marveled at my list-making friend, a paragon of organization. I recognized that her natural inclination to promptly set about putting things into order was a very powerful coping strategy that circumvented further pessimism. Organization comes naturally to Domenica, but it’s a skill I’m steadily learning, with the awareness that it promotes better performance and productivity.

Another friend, Margaret Greenberg, comes to mind as a paragon of organization, for which I’ve always admired her. Organization is definitely akin to what Margaret calls the strength of “getting it out the door.” Whatever you choose to call it, we all know and have been inspired by people who seem extra productive, positive, and proactive. I’d like to know how many of these high-performing, highly productive people are NOT organized.




Beatty, G.J. & Gardner, D.C. (1979). Goal Setting and Resume Writing as a Locus of Control Change Technique with College Women. College Student Journal, 13(4), 315-318.

To-do list Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Second planner courtesy of koalazymonkey.

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Breezy 16 October 2009 - 2:10 am

Dears, can you explain a little bit of Seligman’s pessimism of “me,always,everything”? also what does it mean by “container stores, and even the ancient art of feng-shui”?

Breezy 16 October 2009 - 2:35 am

Dear professor,

What you claim in the article,”organization” is an ability that someone may have it naturally, like your friend Domenica,but for some, they must learn? And “organization” is an ability that you can make everything into order quickly and by this you will feel proactive and self-motivated?

Am I understanding it right?

Thank you!!!!

Dana 17 October 2009 - 8:20 pm

Hi Breezy,

Thank you very much for your comments, I’ll try to address them below:

1) “Me, always, everything” is a shorthand way to describe the three components of explanatory style that Martin Seligman proposed. Optimists tend to describe positive events as being personally caused (me), permanent (always), and pervasive (everything), whereas pessimists would write off positive events as being impersonal, not lasting, and specific to the situation. For more information, there’s another article on PPND by Doug Turner on this –


I mentioned “container stores” and “feng shui” as examples of how organization has become an industry (or has been for a while).

2) I should clarify that my thoughts on organization have not been empirically validated. This article was based on my general observation that some people are naturally inclined to be organized, while others aren’t. And that when you are organized, it makes it easier to be proactive and self-motivated, because you know where to direct your energy. This article was more like a call for research into this area, than prescriptive advice to be organized.

I hope that clears things up a little! Thank you for your interest!


Breezy 18 October 2009 - 10:39 pm

Thank you cvery much for your prompt explanation and it is much clearer now~! thanks again.

I really appreciate your writing style.

Giselle 22 October 2009 - 2:47 pm

Hi Dana,

A pleasure to read one of your well written articles, as always!

I gravitated towards this article because I have an unhealthy affinity for Franklin Covey stores and a propensity to collect more organizers and notebooks than my bookshelves care to hold.
Given my love to organize, create lists, etc, I recognize in myself that I become more motivated to act – to start crossing off lists and tracking my progress towards goals. However, I’ll sheepishly admit that this isn’t always the case. In these cases, I’d say that organization is less of a skill of proactivity and more like a reliable tool – one that you can use to spur proactivity or also to maintain. For instance, I have one family member who couldn’t be more disorganized, yet he gets more accomplished before noon that any other person I know!

Thanks so much for the insights – I know I’ll be thinking about organization differently!

Dana 22 October 2009 - 3:45 pm

Thanks for your thoughts, I totally agree about Franklin Covey! 🙂

I think there’s some interplay between organization and focus – some people don’t need to be as organized to focus and get things done, others need to get organized in order to create the room to focus. And I like the classification of organization as a “tool” of proactivity. What’s missing on this subject though, is the research! 🙂


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