Thursday, 10 September 2009

6 big benefits to working tidy

The world is happily divided on working tidy.

Many people are proudly disorganised. I spoke to one such contented individual the other evening. “You wouldn’t be able to find a thing in my office”, he boasted, “but I can find everything!” I had a mental image of what his desk might look like, and wasn’t entirely convinced by the argument. There was clearly no point in debating the point; maybe he is extremely creative/efficient/happy with his working style. He probably is.

After having some success in working tidier on all my projects, however, I think there are some real benefits to working tidy. Agree or disagree, here is my two-pence-worth:
  1. Focus. Tidying, filing and clearing allow focus on what’s important, rather than what’s on top on top of the pile. Using email or a postal in-box as a “to do” list does not encourage active planning. Working to a plan ensures the important, as well as the urgent stuff gets done.
  2. Calm. Seeing papers, emails or other clutter around constantly pulls the mind away from the task in hand. It’s like having a little voice constantly saying “isn’t this more important?” “why don’t you work on this?” “have you forgotten that?” A clear desk and empty in-box stops the voices and helps concentration.
  3. Prioritise. Clutter is just a pile of stuff that hasn’t yet had decisions made about it. By taking time to file and tidy things away decisions are made: whether the decision is to bin it, act on it, deal with it later or file it for reference. The alternative is just a big pile of work waiting to be done. Sorting enables priorities to be established, planned, and acted on in a timely way.
  4. Meet deadlines. What I really mean is don’t miss deadlines, because that’s what happens when things don’t go in the right place. Things get missed because they are not on the top of the pile. Not always, but it happens.
  5. Make decisions in the here and now. Some decisions benefit from settling time or waiting for more information. Some decisions are just not important enough to deal with at all. But sometimes things get left in the clutter because they are too difficult or it has become default behaviour. Working tidy enables decisions to be made when the job is current, which means the work gets done faster and better.
  6. Finding things. This is purposely last on the list rather than first. Although I have occasionally lost something and spent time looking for it, it doesn't happen very often. In my experience many messy people do know where things are – they have secret systems for which pile said item has been placed. So although finding things quickly is a benefit, I don’t rate it as highly as others on this subject, such as Giles Morris writing in The Guardian a few months’ ago.
I have no option but to keep my project work tidy and filed in systems that are designed to ensure important work doesn’t go astray. But not everything is project work, and for me at least being tidier with all my work is paying dividends – big time.

Are you a creative its-somewhere-over-there type who is productive and happy? Or are you obsessively tidy, and reap abundant rewards from your discipline?

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