On this very beautiful Saturday afternoon, I have a confession to make… I am a bibliophile. Notes, data, resources, whatever. If I have to mentally dissect information, I have it hard copy. I’m also extremely passionate about having a clean desk. Now, as we all know, there are times in life that compromise is necessary. It is impossible for me to be knee deep in multiple projects, and maintain a desk that resembles sanity. There comes a point, however, that my sanity has to be restored. Today was that day. For me, office cleansing nearly always occurs on a weekend. It’s simpler this way, since my office always appears more disastrous in the midst of my sanity re-allocation, and often scares my colleagues. For years, I used T.R.O.G, which is a system based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I used the standalone application for some period of time. In fact, I only stopped using it in the last year when my system was updated at work. I’ll admit that I am well aware that a well executed organization system would imply that I am never in need of rebooting my desktop sanity. I would have to agree with that statement complete, except for the fact that perfection isn’t exactly sustainable. The ability to recognize when lower priority things (i.e., a clear desk) are needed to flush out those of higher priority is supremely important. That is why I spent my day shuffling papers. Life at work was starting to feel a little overwhelming.
From Order to Chaos to Order again There is a method to my madness that has come to be quite effective in the development of my organization technique. The method typically plays out int the following steps:
1. Take a snapshot, for prosperity.
I do this for my own selfish purposes, and i don’t always do it. But a good before and after is extremely gratifying if you’re a results-oriented person. Unless you deliberately take that before picture, you won’t be able to enjoy the comparison.
2. Gather supplies (Colored file folders, file labels, recycle box, trash can)
I categorize everything. And by categorizing, i mean color coding. Its a pretty high-level coding system, but it works well.
Some might prefer a label maker in lieu of file labels. I’ve tried the label maker, its nice, but too fancy. Black felt pen works just fine.
3. Gather all of the piles that have collected.
At this point, I typically don’t worry about my file drawers, but today there was one drawer that I wanted to purge… so I collected the files from that drawer too.
4. Take a deep breath…
This is where the rubber hits the road. Everything on my desk at this point has served, or will serve a purpose. There are generally three categories:
- Done – that piece of paper has served its purpose. I either have an electronic copy of it, or the original is filed safely away.
- A work in progress – This is part of a current project.
- Will be referenced later – Originals that need to be filed, frequently referenced material, and someday/later materials, fall into this class.
If a piece of paper does not fall into any of these categories, it is automatically routed to the recycle box.5. Start sorting.As I begin my attack everything gets a quick assessment. What status category is it? What category is it? Do I have a folder for it?
5. Get to sorting
Soon enough, I’ve got neat little stacks of labeled folders, stacked by status. Everything finds its predetermined home, either filed away, placed in my reference drawer, or placed in my current projects staging area (I don’t have enough drawers for a current projects drawer).
Quick wipe down of the dust and I’ve got a clean desk… and a bit of sanity.
The entire process took about 2 hours, including a detailed purge and re-sorting of one of the file drawers. The best thing about that time spent is that, along with the clean desk, I’ve got a clearer picture of the status and priority of my current, and future projects.
I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, claim to be an organizational guru. I don’t have the cognitive stamina to maintain the talents displayed by such individuals. this process is really just a tried and true method to reclaim my sanity when things get a bit wild around the lab.
So I ask you, my fellow labhandlers, what are your behind the scenes tricks to taming the sanity stealing monsters of your workspace?