Being well-organized makes life easier, and trying new things makes life interesting. But the two don’t always get along.

I’ve recently embarked on an ambitious research project and am a bit overwhelmed by all the information that needs a home. Books, journal articles, my own notes—how do I keep all this stuff straight? How do I make sure I can find what I need when I need it? What’s the perfect system for this kind of project?

These are burning questions for a perfectionist like me, and If I don’t stop myself, I’ll spend half a day meticulously organizing existing information. As opposed to, you know, doing work. So what’s a researcher to do?

The answer is simple: Forget organization. Just get to work.

Looking back on past projects, it’s clear that good organizational systems usually emerge organically. For me, some combination of spreadsheets and .txt files with consistent file naming conventions usually do the trick. In other words, do the work, and you’ll soon see how to organize the work.

We don’t always have to see where we’re going. Take a step, and the ground will appear.