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..."
Jenn, I think the fact that you were inspired to do this slideshow by your own messy desk is funny. Mine used to be pretty insane back in the day, and someone told me it was a sign of a creative mind. That was comforting, and I always knew where everything was. But then I lost something really important in the stack--a credit card bill--and there were, um, consequences. Now I try to clean it up a lot more often. Plus, the available desktop area has gotten much smaller, so, I have to.
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.
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.
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 am a bit let down at only scoring # 2 in this second leg of this "competition" but I am chuffed in getting 50% of the picture coverage even though the last pic was not really representative of the matter at hand – The photos were taken to do a 360° panorama of the room and dates to somewhere in the 200x's – I should possibly have taken a new set of pics as technology has changed the general theme of the area somewhat.
My apologies to contradict some of the Clean Desk proponents here but, I can assure you that I can, 99.9 % of the time, lay my hand on any tool, device, screw, component, whatever might be in my study.
The subject of this thread restricted the entries to "desks" else I could have taken you though the door at the end of my study to my garage that probably contains 2 x as much stuff as does my study but more boxed and stored away than here in my area of activity.
As far as documents go, once a year, I capture everything required to submit my Tax Returns from the year's (Pandora's)(photocopy)) box and then file it way marked clearly with that tax year's dates.
I can find the sales slip of the new kettle I bought 18 months ago (as well as the box it was packed in) and return it for its 24 month warrantee as I can for the Pioneer Quadrophonic sound system I bought 40 years ago and still works in the lounge ( as well as it's boxes in the roof of the garage!)
And then I probably do not need to remind anyone of the layout of the human brain? Also a "mess" and, to date, man has been able to discover what certain area do but for the rest, they have no idea what gives. But I can recover images and thoughts for most of my 65 years with such speed and clarity "it boggles the mind!"
These are some impressively messy desks. Mike Carter gets the Biggest Mess award because his work space appears to be tipping over. Erich Voight is a close second based on sheer scope. It must take a great deal of fortitude to continue working under these conditions.
Wow!! I thought an ex-coworker's desk was messy but nothing compared to the ones in the slide show. He had what I called a functional messy office. The man could find anything at any time on his desk and floor piles. It was amazing.
When I first got hired, we had a lot of messy desks with a lot of material. Their self-made excuse was they could find everything they needed and only went to the stock room very rarely. This way they saved time. Then I parked myself in the middle of the lab with a stop watch. It turned out that we spent less time going to the stock room then looking for anything in a messy desk. 3 weeks later and 5 boxes (5'x5'x5' boxes) of trash we actually have desk space to work on. Now we only order what we need. No searching as everything is ordered in Microsoft access. And you don't lose your current project to a trash avalanche.... Now I was lucky some one senior to me listened and agreed with throwing everything out. Later he forced everyone else to participate. To this day people still complain how they could find things in an instant before the cleanup. Junk that you will not use the next 6 months, 1 year, 2 years should not be saved but rather recycled. It should all be proportional to its value, size, and frequency of use.
I recently won a "clean desk award" at work, which was a source of amusement to my co-workers, since, as a failure analyst, my desk is covered with broken parts. (Although it is nothing like the desks in this slideshow!)
On the other hand, there were no confidential documents on my desk, which is what the clean desk police were looking for. Other co-workers, who have otherwise immaculate desks, were denied the prize because they had a phone list next to their phone -- apparently, our phone list is confidential.
The prize was a free lunch in the company cafeteria -- who says there's no such thing?
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.
I remember when I was a machinist I kept my toolbox perfect as well as the shop itself. Every tool in it's place. I worked 1st shift and I would almost always spend 20-30 minutes every morning cleaning up what 2nd and 3rd shift had done. I just couldn't work in the mess. It was pretty bad.
When I was a manager I never told the people working for me how to keep their area organized, I just expected them to be able to do their job. Messy, clean, no matter, as long as you do your job it's OK by me.
The problem came when I had 2 guys working for me, one who was messy (and forgetful) and another who was very organized. The problem was that the messy guy tended to lose his tools because he never put them back where they belonged, instead he would just leave them where he last used them. Then when he needed a tool he wouldn't look for his, if the organized guy wasn't around he would grab his tools (without telling him or leaving a note), use them, and then usually lose those! I had to referee a couple of shouting matches between these guys.
I told the messy guy this was about respect, he couldn't take stuff other people were responsible for (or sometimes even owned personally) without permission. He said look I'm just trying to get the job done as quickly as possible, I don't have time to clean up every 5 minutes. I told him every 5 days would probably be OK but I had never seen him arrange his area at all. Again, that's up to him but he can't mess up another guy's area or hinder him in doing his job.
I finally bought the organized guy a tool cabinet and gave him the only key. That solved the tool problem but there was still resentment between the guys. Along with The Great Ongoing Thermostat Argument - a subject for another time - this is why I got out of management!
Tom M, when I started there, well I had some tools from previous jobs, but like every job there were some specific ones you needed. The company supplied them, but I could never find them. That led to me buying all my own tools which I shouldn't have had to do.
It's just different when you HAVE to work with other people and share things, totally different when you have your own cube or office. If the work gets done, who cares to each their own.
There is a HUGE difference between neat and organized, and at the same time, they are not mutually exclusive. BUt some take neatness to a stupid extreme. When I worked at Methode Electronics Division they got a new lab manager whose lack ot technical skills was more than made up for by his penchant for neatness. The extreme was rearranging the shelves where the different engineers stored their project materials. Insteaqd of each engineer having a specific shelf for their materials, he moved things so that each shelf had a similar looking arrangement of boxes and packages, with no consideration of what belonged to whom. So folks would need to go through all of the shelves to find their parts. That was neatness taken to a stupid level.
Im also having hard time to clean my office desks. Rearranging all my stuff is not easy. It'll take time since I was loaded with a lot of tasks. Simple thing I'm doing to clean it up: I separate the unecessary items to avoid distraction.
As DeMarco and Lister showed in Peopleware http://amzn.to/12NzfR7 productivity is directly proportional to one's office floor space and directly proportional to one's desktop area. So why do we still find ourselves engineering the world in such (clearly) cramped quarters?
Darwine, you bring up an interesting concept thatI had not considered previously. BUT it does make sense. Clearly, havng an adequate amount of space to work in is a way to enable greater productivity. But space alone may not be nessesary as the only way. Having the needed resources helps a lot also.
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