Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

A Pattern Language for Productivity, Pattern #2: A Place for Everything

by Andre · 1 Comment

Being neat is different from being organized. Neatness is measured by how well conspicuous disarray is minimized. Organization is measured by how well storage and retrieval decisions are minimized. Standardize as many common decisions as possible. A library is a functional tool because society has agreed on a specific classification system for arranging books. Piles of books arranged in an arbitrary fashion would be useless.

It’s certainly possible to make a fetish out of organizing, as critics have long pointed out. Imposing order on a world of entropy can easily become of full time occupation. But organization is ultimately concerned with arranging our environment for a purpose. We only need to decide where to put things until the decisions become automatic, allowing us to focus our attention on higher priorities. Without a higher purpose, organizing becomes an end in itself.

A few examples:

  • Where should the PDF you’ve downloaded and just finished reading go? Having a My Documents\PDFs folder defined for all documents of that type eliminates the need to make that decision in the future. It also makes it knowing where to find it a cinch.
  • Which computer has that Word document? Maybe it’s best to keep all documents on your laptop, and avoid using your desktop PC for storing critical files.
  • How many half-finished bottled waters are in your car and house? Installing a water filter and purchasing a reusable polycarbonate or stainless steel bottle is one approach to prevent plastic bottles from “reproducing.”
  • What are each of those stray, unconnected cables for? Spend half an hour identifying the target device for each cable (e.g. the charger for the Bluetooth headset). Coil each one in a Ziplock bag, labelling each bag with the cable’s function. Then put all of the bags in a transparent plastic box.
  • Where should you look in your laptop bag for the papers that come into your life while in the go — receipts, flyers, business cards? Having a single folder labelled “In” can stop the spread of incoming stuff. You can add its contents to your home intray, or process them in transit during down time.

Some patterns to be discussed in later posts — general reference files, tickler file, activity zones — will go into more detail on specific placement strategies. In the meantime, at a look around your environment and look for any piles that represent improvement opportunites. The goal is not to hide clutter, but to prevent its accumulation in the first place. Get off of mailing lists, refuse unneeded bags at retail stores, reconsider whether or not an imminent purchase is necessary or merely impulse. Whatever survives this pruning, ask yourself, “Where should this item go?” Eliminate the unessential, and assign a permanent home to the essential.

Tags: A Pattern Language for Productivity