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Productivity 101: Organized Chaos

Explore the concept of organized chaos, where structure and spontaneity coexist to boost coaching and productivity.

Picture of an old man painting a chaotic image
Chaos is the paint we use to paint the picture of productivity

Flipping the Switch on Chaos

Chaos is the enemy of productivity, or so we think. It’s distracting, causes stress, and wastes time. How could we possibly be productive from chaos? While chaos can cause these negative effects when we think of order, it also supports collaboration, creativity, and flexibility; all forms of productivity.

Chaos, when used correctly, can actually be a tool. While chaos is generally seen as a negative factor that hinders productivity, there are instances where it can be used to help—not harm—productivity.

Join us at CLCI Live while Brooke Adair Walters (ACC), Jerome LeDuff Jr (MCLC), Anthony Lopez (MCPC), Lisa Finck (MCC), and Jen Long (ACC) discuss how to utilize chaos to fuel productivity.

Types of Chaos

We all know how overwhelming it can feel when we're surrounded by clutter and disorganization. The list of to-do’s piles up and our focus becomes split between every single task instead of focusing on one thing at a time. Chaos can also have a negative impact on your ability to get things done efficiently and effectively.

We experience chaos in multiple ways: there’s external chaos—when the surrounding environment is overwhelming—and internal chaos—when our inner emotions feel out of control and disorganized. While external chaos sometimes creates internal chaos, many people function, thrive even, in chaotic environments; they might even feel more internal chaos in a quiet, calm, and serene environment than a chaotic one. 

With all types of chaos, we often regard it as a negative thing. It feels like something that should be avoided and is potentially scary. This can also cause us to try to preemptively avoid chaos by being overly organized in an effort to scare chaos back.

Organized Chaos

A messy desk of a reporter

Chaos does not equal messy. What one person finds messy and potentially chaotic, could be completely in order to another person—organized chaos. A work desk can be covered in papers, but the desk’s owner knows exactly what each paper lying around is and how to find it when needed. It could be a kitchen junk drawer where all the items are mixed together, but you know what belongs in the junk drawer and that you’ll find it there every time you need it.

Organized chaos isn’t for everybody. Its complexity can be difficult to understand to an outsider who doesn’t know the rules for the space. When the outside comes in and tries to make order of it, the person who knows the rules will be thrust into chaos because their organization has been disrupted. Because the foundational basis of organized chaos are these underlying rules, it’s not true chaos.

Mitigating the Chaos

Chaos is unavoidable. We can’t stop it from occurring, no matter how hard we try. What we can do is prepare ourselves to handle it when it does occur. Statistician Nassim Taleb coined the term “antifragility” to describe the process of systems getting stronger after being exposed to stressors. This can be applied to humans as well—overcoming a stressor better prepares us for the next time. If we take this theory and apply it to chaos, we will make ourselves stronger at facing chaos. 

Finding comfort within small messes or testing yourself on natural disasters are a few ways to introduce controlled, safe chaos into your life. These small pieces of chaos allows us to microdose it so that we are better prepared and can handle the chaos as it comes.

Using Chaos for Good

When we are bound by rules, we can become stuck—especially those of us who find comfort in order. When rules and order become constraining, introducing chaos to the situation allows us to get out of the box and feel the freedom to think creatively. 

Without turning the tables occasionally, we become stifled by habits and rules. In coaching, we will encounter clients who have been following the same rules for so long and gotten nowhere. They’ve decided it’s time to try something new with life coaching, but are still locked in the box of these rules. To our clients, there needs to be some sort of change that happens to the habits or rules for any growth to happen. 

This change is a disruption. It’s an interruption in an established process. We all experienced such a disruption with Covid-19. Our entire lives were disrupted. We had to learn completely new rules at the speed of light. It wasn’t just a blip in normalcy either, we all adapted to a new normal and have forever changed how we live because of that disruptor.

Chaos in Coaching

In the coaching session, we are to provide a safe space and a listening ear for our client. Yet sometimes this translates to coaches that they should always comfort a client and NEVER challenge them. Thus, the client gets stuck in their warm bubble of comfort. Introducing controlled chaos into the session can help our clients get unstuck without risk. When we challenge Assumptions, what a coach is doing is being curious about the basic assumptions the client holds about their situation, beliefs, or goals.

As well and if possible, change the physical or virtual setting of a coaching session. Something as simple as getting out of the office and going for a walk can have a dramatic impact on the rhythm of a coaching session. (Of course, do so within the limits of your client's comfort zone).

Chaotic Clients

Clients aren’t going to come in perfect little packages that fit into every module you covered in our courses. They are going to be chaotic. Sometimes we have clients that are non-linear, and we feel like they’re all over the place, jumping from topic to topic and emotion to emotion. 

As opposed to the client stuck in the session, this client is throwing everything at the wall and waiting for something to stick. In this situation, can provide order to the client? Possibly. We could take notes of the session and the client's various paths of thought. With a record of these paths, we can ask our client what the link between these thoughts is and help our client connect their thinking and find a path forward. 

On the other hand, maybe it's not our job to impose order. Think back to our example of the messy desk and organized chaos. The client's thoughts may only appear chaotic because its "complexity can be difficult to understand to an outsider who doesn’t know the rules for the space".

In that lights, perhaps the best approach is simply to observe, to wait and see for the patterns of thought to emerge.

In coaching, we cannot run from chaos, nor can we force our hand in controlling it (or our clients). Sometimes it is better to embrace it and learn to manage it through structure when it’s overwhelming and use it as a tool when we are too structured. While chaos can be challenging, it can also be harnessed productively when used in the right context and in a controlled manner.


Thank you,

Brooke Adair Walters (ACC), Jerome LeDuff Jr (MCLC), Anthony Lopez (MCPC), Lisa Finck (MCC), and Jen Long (ACC)!

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