Productivity & Organizing Myth #6 – I can find anything in my piles.

By | February 28, 2007

Myth: Piles of papers or things are organized and people can find anything quickly in those piles. They say, “Believe it or not I know where everything is.”
Reality: It takes a lot of time for people to find specific papers within piles and often they don’t find the papers until they’re no longer needed. This leafing through piles often causes a lot of stress that the user is accustomed to but relieved to eliminate by getting organized in the end. Papers grouped together by topic are the most useful and findable.

Pile

You know the scene. You walk into an office or cube and see papers everywhere. The piles of papers might be neat – stacked horizontally as individual towers of unknown ‘important stuff.’ The piles of paper might be smeared across the desk leaving no desktop showing and looking like a mound. Usually old piles or special collections were relocated to the floor making it difficult to move about in the space.

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Sometime you can’t have a meeting in the person’s office because there just isn’t a clear view between you and him or because the visitor’s chair holds the papers related to the last couple of projects.


When decluttering offices with clients I often hear, “Oh, there it is! I haven’t seen that in a while,” and,”Oh, there it is, I could have used that last week!” Hours before, when we first got together, they said they can find anything then they show the reality ~ they lost things in the piles.

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Last week we found a folder titled, Review, in Jane’s cubicle. The contents of the folder help her contribute to her annual performance review at work every January. She usually looks at the last couple of years’ goals, objectives, and progress and is ready to write her portion of the review with long-range point of view. But, this year her she had to write it on the fly because that folder was buried under months of completed paperwork. We relocated the Review folder in a file drawer designated for the personal side of her recordkeeping. (That is opposed to the project collateral of her other file drawers.) We labeled the folder more clearly and she will be able to find it in a snap next time she needs it.

Another frequent result of piling things is ending up owning multiple of them or having to go without. For example, Howard always borrows scissors from Blake since they have a low wall separating their cubes. When decluttering Howard’s space we found scissors ~ they were under the pile of thing in the drawer all along.

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Some readers will relate in that they have multiples of things because they couldn’t find their thing so bought another. For example, they might have 3 or 4 vegetable peelers. Often I hear of closets with 5 of the same color shirt in basically the same style because the original shirts got hidden in an over-crowded and disorganized closet. In the garage they might have 3 identical hose nozzles.

The productive solution to this clutter myth is to put like things together, identify the home for the group, label the home, and return items to the home consistently.

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Previous Myths:

Susan Sabo is an intrepid traveler who has organized her life to be out of the country for months at a time. Antarctica is the only unvisited continent (so far). She’s the author at www.productivitycafe.com, consults with professionals on improving their personal productivity and presents motivating productivity SOPs & tips (such as how to get home for dinner) to groups.

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

More About Working From Home

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