I was curious where the phrase comes from and this is what I found out doing a quick Google search:
There are several theories about where the phrase originated. One is
the is comes from the bowling industry where pins used to be smaller and thicker than today's pins; they were called "ducks" and putting them all in a row referred to the handsetting of pins.
Another possibility is related to Mother Duck's mode of traveling with her ducklings: all the babies follow behind Mother Duck in a straight, close line for their safety. This makes sense when you see a row of ducklings following their mother across a road. Other possiblities are that the term refers to the ducks used in mechanical shooting games at a arcade, "ducks" as the metal weights formerly used by engineers to define a curve, or "ducks" as cargo bins which must be lined up on the dock before being loaded onto a ship.
Some sources say that the term was first seen in print in a Stephen King novel in the 1970's so it is apparently a relatively new term, not one from ancient times.
Regardless of it's origin, the term means to ensure all of the small details or elements are accounted for and in their proper positions before embarking on a new project. When a person is fully prepared for any eventuality and has every element in place, he or she can indeed be said to have his or her ducks in a row.
When I'm feeling disorganized and "scattered", it helps me be more productive by getting things back in order. I clean the studio, sort magazines, clip articles, bag paintings and prints, clean paint brushes etc., not as a way of getting out of working but rather of putting things to rights so that I can work more efficiently and effectively, with a clear mind. I always used to clean my desk, room, closet etc. the day after school was out--like a routine that helped me change gears from the school year to summer vacation, perhaps. Now, I think I'll take visualize taking a nice hot bath and see if (in my mind) I can get all the rubber duckies in the tub swimming in the same direction, visually an analogy for my preparation for a productive artistic year in 2013! And then I'll get back to work on the projects and commissions that need to be addressed before I can move on to personally creating some new paintings which are now simmering in the back of my mind.