I can’t believe it! There she goes again! She’s tidied up and I can’t find anything! — Thomas Dolby
Things organized neatly is not me. While I appreciate looking at images of precisely organized spaces, I’ve discovered feeling ashamed of my workspace is detrimental to my work. My office is a living thing, not an exhibit. I’m a stacker. About a year ago, I abandoned the guilt I generated by not maintaining a white glove-ready workspace. In doing so, I’ve relieved some stress, became more productive, and realized that untidy and organized are not mutually exclusive.
The Tidal Wave
Every few months I would succumb to an urge to transform my home office into a museum exhibit. I spent hours arranging my office and finding a home for everything. I called my self a neat person. Neat people are highly organized and productive. They’re intellectual and competent. I am one of those people.
Within a week, the piles returned, as did the guilt. Clearly, I’m not one of those tidy, on-top-of-things people.
Evidence, Not Enemy
When I finish a day’s work, I look at my Mac’s desktop. Screenshots, photos, snippets of text, emails and so forth fill the screen, strewn here and there. Before I throw it all way, I consider the jumble. That’s the evidence of a day’s work.
So is the stuff in my office.
I pulled ideas or reference material from those books. The photos reminded me of something or someone I love (like my kitchen from my childhood home in Scranton). The papers hold all sorts of goodies — contracts I’ve signed, drawings from the kids, numbers I’ve called, arrangements I’ve made.
This is the evidence of my work. Some would put the book on a shelf after reading. I’d rather simply put it down and start writing. I like the photos where they are so I can reference them anytime. I work hard, and this stuff is a part of the result.
Untidy and Organized
There’s a very important distinction to make here. Namely, the huge difference between processed and unprocessed stacks. A random pile of stuff that contains items you can’t even identify is not acceptable. I’m not condoning an amorphous heap of who-knows-what, nor should your office become a huge inbox.
Everything in my office has been processed and assigned an appropriate home. That is to say, I look at every item and ask myself:
- What is it? A task? A project? Trash or reference material?
- What must be done? File it? Toss it? Add to a project or task list?
- Where does it live? A folder, cabinet, desk, etc?
Once I’ve determined the answer to each question, I act accordingly. That way, everything is where it ought to be. Even if its home is a small pile on the corner of my desk.
How precisely organized should I be? Enough to pass a white glove test? No. That’s not going to happen, and imposing that ideal on myself is actually counter-productive. So, I stay organized enough to achieve my goals. Today, I achieve what I’m after, stacks and all. I’m okay with it. I have things I love around me, like photos, drawings and Disney Vinylmations. It’s working and, more importantly, I am.
When I was younger, my grandmother’s house was kept like a museum. It was gorgeous and sterile. My office is a working space. Stuff gets done, and dust is raised. Detritus is strewn about. Like a potter who goes home with clay on his jeans, I get messy when I work.
But the result is beautiful.