In my company, a defense contractor, there is a "clean desk" policy in the new areas. The reasoning is that some employees have been in the habit of leaving part prints, test data, costing data and other sensitive or confidential information around for any passerby to see. Of course they don't give us enough storage space to keep everything we need to do our jobs, so that's a constant struggle.
Perhaps the reason that those in the Electircal branch of engineering tend to have more clutter is because the Mechanical Engineers/Technicians tend to have some place in the shop where they can keep their pieces.
While not an Engineer, (I am an Engineering Technician) I have had responsibility for electrical design and Interface layouts for several differnt kinds of industrial equipment and often I have been dealing with several versions of the machine. And then I was also working on some sort of replacement design because of components that were no longer available, as well as working with some special feature that a pending sale was wanting.
Unlike in the shop where we had 2 or 3 guys assembling products that were very similar mechanically (amazing how a software change can create a "new" product) and had time to organize and arrange, I was the only one working in the "Engineering" roll as well as being the guy that customers called when they had a problem. It is fun troubleshooting a problem on a 25 year old machine that you have never seen even a picture of.
And there were days when I got little productive work done because of all the non related interrupts that came during that day. New parts came in and the vendor changed a spec requiring new software to program. Customer trying to keep a machine going for which we can no longer find parts. Question on special feature that a potential customer wants. Part spec changes so how do we re-arrange the panel, and how will that effect the wiring? Operator interface is no langer available, what can we sub, and can we get it working in time to ship?
When I was working as a Mechanical Engineering technician things were much more linear. We had one project (made of sub projects) but it was a much more linear process and engineering had more control over the schedule.
Oh!! How I wish this article had come out about 10 years ago, when I was working at Raytheon in MD. We had a components engineer who had a big pile of organized desk, guest chair and floor folders full of paper. The guy was a great components engineer and could find anything in his many many piles of paper. It was told that he had been written up because his area was a safety hazard. He would talk to himself (no crime I do too) a very hard worker and must have had a memory like an elephant. Ask him about any part he could go directly to the correct pile and folder. It was a sad day when he left the company.
In my life it is priorities. I come to work early, usually by at least 15 minutes and usually leave late, by at least an hour.
Just in front of me right now:
1) Paperwork to get access to our post office box (my lead engineer, the kid, is retiring in 3 weeks).
2) A paper I need to submot today on RF radiation testing, patterns and propagation.
3) My spiral lab book showing GPS cooridinates, calculations, etc that I need to enter into my computer lab notes.
4) Drawings of a preamp I reverse engineered for our aircraft radio.
5) Drawings and BOM for a FM bandstop filter.
6) Application for a RFID badge for one of my employees so he can get in our building.
7) Spec measurements for a high power amplifier that I need to enter in my computer (gain, power, current, coupler loss, etc).
8) Results of measurements for an 8 port high power combiner to be entered in my computer.
9) Application for credit card for our petty cash account.
10) Cell phone usage report due to accounting.
11) Drawings for mod to a TV modulator to detect and kill RF on video sync loss.
12) Smith Charts for an antenna I am working on
13) Drawings for a mockup test unit that I hope to give to a tech today.
14) Instructions to another tech on adjustments I need made to a sat antenna mounted on a plane.
15) Coax crimpers, strippers wrenches etc to build some test cables later today.
16) Complete a testing flight plan that I started last Wednesday or Thursday that our pilot is waiting for.
All this on the left side of my desk!
And on my keyboard is my expired company "travel card". I called for a new one to be delivered FedEx and a week later I still don't have it. The card is there to remind me to call, press 1 for English, enter the credit card number on the phone, then hear the "your call is important to us" recording for the next 20 minutes.
My workbench is covered in circuit cards that the techs tell me are impossible to fix. I usually spend a day per week getting these running (and humilating the "techs" in the process).
I am always behind the curve here. Most of it is a matter of just putting out fires today and keeping unenthused employees producing. The pile on my desk will be gone tomorrow with a fresh pile to replace it.
I should not even be spending the time to reply to your post Rob, but you are correct is deciding priorities. A clean desktop is not worth missing dinner after a long day. Still I love my job.
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