The Big Clean

I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between organization and tidiness lately. My work environment tends to be extremely untidy . . . Well, perhaps ‘untidy’ is too mild a term. (A passing vice-president once described my office as, if you will pardon the Anglo-Saxon, “ten pounds of shit in a five-pound sack.”)

On the whole, I consider messiness to be at worst a venial sin. Most of the accumulation was various pieces of computers, PDAs, and attendant paraphernalia . . . and it had to be stored somewhere. Why not where one can get to it easily?

When I took stock and realized that the bottom layer of sediment included a Pentium 233, I could no longer deny that the time for action was at hand. It took two days, and in the end I removed six computers (leaving four and a few laptops), two large boxes of cables, one monitor, and three computer boxes filled with vendor CDs.

My environment is now, undeniably, tidy, and it’s not at all a strain. In fact, it is indeed easier to concentrate (except for co-workers who have been keeping up a continual stream of amazed commentary). I do keep finding myself reaching for where things used to be, but it is nice to have room to move my chair.

Of course, these sort of radical reorganizations result in primarily external effects. Without changing the underlying behavior, the tidiness is doomed to be temporary. I’ve tried many organizational systems (such as FranklinCovey and GTD), but the effort of keeping them up ends up taking too much time.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if the decay of compliance with these systems comes in part from my tendency to keep the spheres of my life (work, grad school, and personal) strictly isolated from each other. I plan to experiment with a reduced version of GTD, in the hopes of finding a system that is usable without being suffocating.