Creating Systems for Success, Not to Impress

Can you give a great presentation if you have a messy office?

Can you be a fabulous parent with laundry strewn all over the house?

On the one hand, it might seem like you’re too busy doing your “job” to worry about little details like filing or cleaning out the fridge. But after many years as a parent and a business owner, I’ve come to realize that when I don’t have my “back room” in order, it’s only a matter of time before my front-facing self starts to show the cracks.

You can certainly give a good presentation if your office is piled with papers. After all, it’s not like prospective clients are going to follow you back to your cube and do a white glove check. But if you let your personal space get too out of control, you’re eventually to going lose a file, misplace a phone number, or have to ask your client or boss to resend you that report one too many times.

It’s hard to sustain great results if you’re coming from a place of chaos.File Folders

The same thing applies at home. I’m living proof that dust bunnies don’t prevent you from being a nurturing parent. But if you can’t find your keys to drive your kids to school or you lose the note that told you what time you’re supposed to be at the pediatrician, you’re probably not as calm or effective as you could be.

We all have our areas of struggle; my father, who recruited and managed thousands of people, says that most successful people have a certain amount of chaos in their life.

The question is, what level of back room messiness is normal, and when does it start to hinder you?

I’d be the last person to suggest you should choose cleaning over being with your kids, or filing over interacting with your people, and if you’re a neat-nick control freak, I’ll have to find someone else to validate your way of life.

However, I do think that we often fail to realize just how much the infrastructure of our lives affects our ability to be successful at the things that are really important to us.

As a recovering paper-piler, it pains me to admit this. But after working with hundreds of organizations, I can tell you, the companies where people have towering stacks of just-in-case papers on their desks are never as successful as the organizations where there’s a clear expectation that spaces will be kept clean and neat.

Whether we realize it or not, the systems we create, or don’t create, affect the way we show up for things.

For example, when I re-organized our client files and created a worksheet to capture the most information about each project, I became a lot more effective on the phone.

It’s not about cleaning out your closet or color-coding your calendar so that other people will be impressed. It’s about setting yourself up for success.

It’s also about instilling successful habits in your family and your team. Or at least that’s what I tell my kids when I go ballistic over the three half-used, open containers of sour cream in our fridge.

Getting organized is hard, and getting a family or company organized is even harder. But if you truly care about what you’re doing, it’s worth your time to set up systems to help you get even better at it.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant. The founder and principal of McLeod & More, Inc, she specializes in sales and leadership training. Her newest book, The Triangle of Truth, has been cited as the blueprint for “how smart people can get better at everything.”  Visit for a short video intro.