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January 18-24, 2006

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Gray Matters

Lanna Nakone and the organized brain


By Jordan E. Rosenfeld

At long last I have an answer to the piercing headaches that show up just behind my left eye when I feel the need to clear my desk and get organized. According to the criteria defined by St. Helena organizational entrepreneur Lanna Nakone, trying to follow rules and "get it right" in life is not my inherent organizational style. It's not even in my brain structure. Those rule-followers and perfectionists can thank their three left posterior brain lobes for their abilities; my own attempts at perfectionism equal migraines.

According to Nakone's new book, Organizing for Your Brain Type (St. Martin's Press; $13.95), I apparently function in an "Innovating" organization style, which, according to the work of neuroscientist Arlene Taylor--whose research Nakone elaborates on--means that the right frontal lobe of my brain calls the shots in my relationship with clutter. (This might also explain my oversized forehead.)

Nakone posits that folks often fail at organizing because they try to conform to a style not organic to how their brains function. By identifying which type you are, Nakone--who appears at Copperfield's Books on Jan. 18 and Book Passage on Jan. 19--believes everyone has the ability to be organized.

"We need to honor our innateness," says Nakone, a tall, exuberant woman whose energy and vision quickly make me feel like a slacker. She refers to herself as a "Marxist revolutionary on the inside who is confronted with a Wal-Mart consumption culture." We met recently over bagels after Nakone had spent the day organizing the files of the Sylvan Learning Center, one of the many clients of her corporate business, Organized World, which helps others get professionally organized.

The definition of organization, Nakone writes in her book, means "being able to find what you need in five minutes or less." This is a revolutionary concept to many who consider closets to be repositories of their personal histories and desks merely a place to build more paper stacks.

Nakone identifies four separate brain types associated with different cerebral areas: Maintaining (posterior left section), Innovating (frontal right section), Harmonizing (posterior right section) and Prioritizing (frontal left section). For Maintaining folks, organization means neatly labeled and elaborate filing systems. For those of the Prioritizing persuasion, this means finding ways to delegate the organizing tasks to others. For members of my ilk, the Innovating style, our immense visionary talent is clearly evidenced by the number of folders and paperwork spread across our desks. It looks like clutter to you, but believe me, to us, it is visual accounting. Lastly, Harmonizing types are more interested in people than stuff, and organize their lives to seek interconnectedness, easily recognizable by photos, sentimental tchotchkes and speed-dial numbers programmed for their best friends.

If Nakone could give one simple piece of advice to all types to get them immediately on the road to organization, it would be, "Purge! People pretty much pay me to throw things away for them," she said.

Another important point on the road to organization, she said, is that "when you're trying to get organized, don't go out and buy things to help you organize!

"Most people don't realize that their environment affects their mental health. I like to ask people, 'How much do you need?' Chances are you don't need much, but you want everything." Nakone claims that she is a living example of the work she does. "I live minimally. My theory is to buy the best, but few. I believe that if a person has no time and no insight, they'll head to the mall."

Nakone is clearly an Innovating type, since she thinks big and has her hands in multiple projects. "I want to be seen as the organizing authority, the Martha Stewart of organizing who can also appeal to Generation X," she declares.

Nakone already writes a column for the Napa Valley Register, which she hopes to syndicate, and she wants a TV show of her own. Her second book, Every Child Has a Thinking Style, is forthcoming in March.

"I want to make sure that people can live well and have a quality of life," she says. "Most people are so overwhelmed. I tell people to be discriminating about what you let into your life. And learn how to manage it organically once it's there."


Lanna Nakone appears Wednesday, Jan.18, at Copperfield's Books, 2316 Montgomery Drive, Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, 707.578.8938, and Thursday, Jan. 19, at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 415.927.0960. Both events are at 7pm and are free.


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