Sitting here behind my desk at the Massachusetts HQ of Design News one day, I thought -- what a mess! I found myself looking at a couple empty Coke cans, a half-empty water bottle, my tangled mess of a telephone cord, and more yellow Post-its than I care to count.
It got me thinking... If my desk is this messy (remember, I'm a magazine editor), what must the desks of our readers look like? Don't get me wrong, we've been down this road. My colleagues at EE Times, Brian Fuller and Alex Wolfe (formerly DN's content director), have outted all you messy engineers before.
But, I'm doing it again. I put the call out and four brave, albeit messy, engineers responded. Click on the link below to see photos of their workspaces (though I can't imagine how they actually get any work done)!
Erich Voigt, an engineer in Cape Town, South Africa, says, "My Home Desk? Damn! It was here somewhere..."
That's exactly what I want to avoid: wasting time looking for "tools" needed to do the job--including pieces of paper if it's in the office--instead of doing the fun part. My kitchen is highly organized for that reason. I love to cook, but I hate to not find a tool in it's place. Now if only I could keep my office as organized as my kitchen...
I must spend 25-30% of the time I am working on something looking for where I put a particular tool (usually the tape measure) or pencil. I actually buy 2 or 3 of just about every tool so when I go back to a project, the tools are nearby. Otherwise I would have to go looking all over the house, garage and shed to find something I need.
I used to have a filing system: "Newest on the top; oldest on the bottom." Then our company adopted a clean desk policy -- for security of intellectual property. I got organized and cleaned up my act and found that I liked it. I adopted a new policy of tearing up failed experiments. If I wanted to keep an article I tore it out and filed it where I would use it instead of keeping the whole magazine.
Engineers are lucky not to have to abide by HIPAA confidentiality law that must be observed by clinics and hospitals. If they work with such clients they must understand their role in keeping confidential info locked up.
Voigt's "workspace" is unbelievable. I guess it could be worse--there are actual aisles between the piles--but doesn't it take at least as much time to find stuff as it does to work? Aside from that lost bill, I eventually became a neatnik in my office, workshop, and kitchen because I hated having an inspiration and then not being able to do it for want of finding the tools. By the time I found the tools/backup info/whatever the inspiration might have disappeared and I was an unhappy, frustrated non-creator.
My take is this: there is a messy desk, and then there is a messy desk. One messy desk is piled with data from past projects, white papers, spec sheets, etc., basically a free air open-looped file cabinet. That is geniune messy. In another blog post I stated messy desk vs clean desk are two different information management strategies. In the end the benchmark is how much time it takes to find whatever is being looked for. THEN there is a messy desk. That just needs to be cleaned up. I'm sorry, I see that coke cans and serpentine tangled phone cords are not included in the true spirit of the open-looped free air information management style of our revered engineering forefathers.
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