kerravonsen: cartoon 8th Doctor: "perfect fit" (Doc8-perfect-fit)
[personal profile] kerravonsen
I'm an organised thinker, and I'm thinking about organisation. These thoughts were prompted mainly by the process I have taken in organising my craft stuff, but the principles apply to other things as well. This isn't so much a series of tips or even necessarily a "how-to"; instead I'm being rather more analytical than this type of article usually is, not just saying "do this" but also the reasoning behind why it is a useful thing to do.


A. First Principle: Organisation is Categorisation




mollycakes / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND


In order to organise, one needs to put things into categories. Fairly obvious, but sometimes people miss it, especially when they are trying to organise one physical area which has several different kinds of things occupying it. Chaos is the ultimate expression of entropy; all things disordered, mixed together, indistinguishable. Order separates, distinguishes, categorises; puts things in separate sets, like with like.

This has a number of implications:

1. Don't sort a place, sort a class of things.

Sometimes the place and the class can be the same, such as "kitchen stuff" - which is one reason why confusion arises. But places like "lounge" or "bedroom" have many classes of things in them, and classes like "books" could be in many different places. It is easier to take a large set and break it into smaller sets, than to take many sets and try to organise them at the same time.

2. A category for everything, and every category has a place.

The "place" may be a drawer, a box, a cupboard, a zip-lock bag, etc. My mother used to say "a place for everything, and everything in its place". But you can't put things into their places unless you have a place to put them. So part of the organisation plan needs to be finding places to put things. Often enough that consists of putting things back into the same place, but separated out into smaller sets; for example, you're still going to put your clothes back into your wardrobe and drawers, but with more order imposed on them. Other times that means you need to go and get storage such as boxes or shelves for the items to go to.

3. It doesn't matter what the categories are, so long as you have them.

You can classify things by colour, by size, by shape, by origin, by purpose - whatever you like, whatever makes sense to you, whatever you find easy to remember. There is no one "best" set of categories; just helpful and non-helpful ones. The categories don't have to have equal sizes, either. That depends more on the places you have available to put things. You might have one category which is twice as big as another, but you could use a bigger box to put the stuff in, or two boxes for one category and one box for another. That applies in reverse, too: you might want to pick categories which will make things more likely to fit into the spaces you have available. That can occur in two ways: the number of items, and the size of the items. In regard to the number of items, it's nicest if you can make it so that "one set" = "one container". This may enable you to store things more compactly and thus save you space. In regard to the size of items, some things might be too big to fit in some of the spaces available. For example, at one point I had a set of bookshelves which were so small that they would only fit paperbacks, so I chose to make one of my book categories "fiction paperbacks".

4. Categories aren't set in stone.

You may have classified your stuff into one category in the past, but that doesn't mean you can't change your classifications around when re-organising your stuff. To take the book example above, I decided that I preferred having all my fiction together, rather than separated into "paperback" and "hardback", so I combined them together again, and when I got to the small bookshelves, I put the hardbacks on their sides so they would still fit. Another example: when sorting my beads, sometimes I've felt that colour was more important, and other times I've felt that size was more important, so I've changed the categories around when doing a re-organisation.

5. "Miscellaneous" is not a category.

Beware of "miscellaneous": it is a canker of disorder, ready and eager to grow into a cancer of chaos, oozing a miasma of confusion. That isn't to say that you can't have things that are (temporarily) unsorted, but call them what they are: "unsorted". That increases clarity and purpose: you know that they need to be sorted. Part of the reason for organising things is so that you can find them later; things cannot be found if they are hidden inside "Miscellaneous". To be found, they need to be classified - even if they are classified as "not-Something". (I mean, what else is "Non-Fiction" but a book which is "not Fiction"?) If you can't think of a single category for the items, then use multiple categories -- even if each category has only one item in it. Saying specifically what is there will help you find it again.

6. Label Stuff.

While you are sorting, when you put things into their places, LABEL those places. This helps you find things, and to put them back into the right places again, and helps prevent you from putting the wrong things in those places. Label your boxes, label your drawers, label your zip-lock bags, label your matchboxes, and so on. Some items need individual labels: chainmaille rings need a lot of information about them such as Inner Diameter, Wire Diameter, Metal, etc; semi-precious beads might need info on what stone they are made of (don't want to get my Lapis-Lazuli and my Dumortierite mixed up!); yarn balls generally have detailed labels on them already (but if they don't you might want to add them). For other things, labels aren't necessarily needed - you can tell at a glance that those are green glass beads and those other ones are yellow glass beads, and so on. Go from the specific to the general. If you have items in a box, label the items themselves (if they need it), and then label the box; if the box is in a drawer or a cupboard, you might want to label that as well. Basically, if you can't tell at a glance what something is storing inside it, label it.

Different labelling types suit different storage types.
  • Pieces of paper. These can be written on, or printed out from your computer. These can be put inside transparent plastic bags, and inside the compartments in multi-compartment boxes. This has the advantages that you don't need special stickers, and you can move the label easily with the thing it is labelling.
  • Sticky labels. For things you don't mind putting sticky labels onto.
  • Whiteboard markers. For smooth surfaces such as glass jars, plastic boxes, plastic drawers. Advantage: they can be wiped off. Disadvantage: they can be wiped off.
  • Permanent-ink pens (Sharpies). I started using these instead of whiteboard markers when I discovered the ink could be removed with rubbing alcohol. One still needs to be careful what surfaces to use these on; matte/frosted plastic doesn't clean up as easily as smooth plastic. Also, one can make a writing surface on smooth wood (drawers, cabinets) by sticking transparent contact (or transparent packing tape) onto the wood. If it's painted, check that it won't damage the paint first.
  • Samples. Some items that are being stored can actually create visual examples of themselves, such as inks, paints, stamps, hole punches. Sometimes these already are labelled like that, for example rubber stamps which have pictures of the stamp on the other side of it. Or the samples can be stuck on the outside of the container they are in, for example, hole punches punching holes in stickers and sticking the stickers on the box.
  • Add a transparent window to the container. This can be done with things like cardboard boxes and matchboxes, by cutting a hole in the lid or the side and covering that hole with stiff transparent plastic - so long as it doesn't weaken the box too much.

Another approach to labelling is to label the container with a code, and then have somewhere else which has the codes and lists the contents of the containers. I do that with my yarn, since it's in lots of cardboard boxes; I have a file on my computer which lists all the boxes and their contents; some more detailed, some less. Then when I use stuff up or move it around, I update the file. Of course, you could go the whole hog and have a database and print out barcodes, but unless you're a commercial business, that's going a bit too far, I think... Mind you, I do have a database for my chainmaille rings, but that contains more than just the rings, it has information about weaves (and thus what weaves can be used with which rings).


B. Second Principle: Clear The Way




kBandara / Foter / CC BY


(In other words, get the elephant out of the road.)

Okay, what do I mean by that? A lot of the time, people fail to do their organisation because there are things in the way, things that they have to do first; prerequisites, if you will. What I mean by prerequisites is that, in order to do Task D, you may need to do Task F first. For example, before you can sort things on the dining room table, you need to clear the dining room table, and it may be that in order to clear the dining room table, you have do the dishes... and so on. One needs to back-track, figuring out if a given task has prerequisites, and if those in turn have prerequisites, in order to find the first task in the sequence. The reason for doing this backtracking is that often enough, people fail to start because they don't realize that a given task has prerequisites, so they just keep on failing to do that task and feel guilty for failing, and eventually give up altogether because it is just too hard. Clearing the way gets the obstacles out of the road.

1. Clearing workspace.

If you are sorting things, you need a place to do the sorting. It may be a table, it may be a piece of floor, it may be a room, but you do need a place. If you don't have a place, you need to clear a place. In order to clear a place, you may need to move other things first. Keep backtracking until you figure out the first task you need to do in order to start the sequence of tasks which will give you a clear space to work in.

1a. Containers to sort things into.

It isn't always necessary, depending on what things you are sorting -- some things, like clothes, are okay just going in piles -- but it can be helpful to have temporary containers in which to put the sorted items. You could also use permanent containers (see below) but you may not know the size of container you need for any given class of item until after you've sorted them, so temporary containers can still be useful.

Temporary containers can be things like cardboard boxes, plastic containers, bowls, bags, bins... whatever you have to hand. Even origami boxes made out of newspaper, if you are so inclined.

2. Clearing storage space.

When you've done your sorting, you need somewhere to put your now-organised stuff. No point in sorting things if you have no places to put them. But in order to clear storage space, you again may have to move other things, and these may in turn have prerequisites also. So again, back-track the tasks until you figure out which is the first task you need to do.

2a. Containers to store things in.

Again, this may not be necessary, depending on what the items are. But for many items, having containers to put them in can help in keeping them organised. So getting those containers are a prerequisite to getting them organised.


C. Third Principle: A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step




RayMorris1 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND


1. Don't try to do everything at once.

Even thinking about doing everything at once can be so overwhelming that one is so daunted that one doesn't do anything at all. This is obviously counter-productive. One thing at a time, one step at a time. Because doing little bits of things is more productive than doing nothing at all. There are some gurus who say "don't leave your sorting incomplete, don't start something without finishing it". That's all well and good, but unless we are all SuperMoms, there will be things we cannot finish in one sitting. So, finish it in more than one sitting. A better way of putting that principle is: don't start something new before you've finished the previous task. That's a bit more sensible.

2. Bite-sized pieces: Plans and To-Do lists.

Don't start without a plan, but don't spend all your time planning. Huge detailed plans can be overwhelming (see previous point).

What I tend to do is that I have a Plan, and a To-Do List. The plan is the overview, which can drill down into more details; the To-Do List is derived from the Plan; it is the things which I intend to do today. Not tomorrow, not the whole week, just today. Because that is a bite-sized piece that I can deal with.

See http://designlifeproject.com/2014/03/17/5-minutes-productive-day/ -- they suggest a list where one picks out the three most important things, then two more.

What is in the Plan?
  • resources: a list of places I can put things, boxes I can put things in, places I can sort things etc.
  • things which need sorting, and categories to sort them into
  • tasks, which include prerequisites; this is where one gets the tasks to put on the To-Do lists.

Also, the Plan is continuously revised as I think of more things or change my mind; it isn't static.
I also tend to revisit the "things which need sorting" and the "resources" lists as more things are sorted.

3. Do Not Erase Your Footsteps.

Look back and see how much you've accomplished, don't just look forward and see how much is left to do. This means doing things like keeping your old to-do lists, and crossing things off them rather than deleting items from them. Keep your original list of "things to be sorted" and watch it dwindle. These are encouraging things which will help you keep going.

4. The "Divide Into Two" rule.

Sorting is mentally exhausting, because decision-making is mentally exhausting. So how can you make it less mentally exhausting?

Divide into two.

When you have a pile of stuff that needs sorting into categories, whether that be beads or books etc, rather than sorting them into all the different categories, just pick one category "X" to start with, and divide the items into two piles: "X" and "not-X". This is easier on your brain because instead of having to answer "What category is this?" you just have a Yes-or-No question to answer: "Is this X or not?" When you are done, you will have a pile of X things, and a pile of not-X things. Then you can put the X things aside, and tackle the not-X pile, looking for the next category, Y or not-Y.

To give a specific example, there are plated rings I bought from TRL which, unlike most of their other rings, come in a mixed set of Gold, Silver, Black Ice, Antique Copper and Antique Bronze. So I have to sort them out. I use three flat trays or plastic containers, one temporary storage container for the unsorted rings, and five containers awaiting the sorted rings. I pour a small handful of the unsorted rings into a tray, and pick out all the gold ones, putting them into the second tray. Then I pour the remaining non-gold rings into the third tray. Then I grab another handful of unsorted rings and do this again. And again, until there are no more rings in the unsorted-rings container. Then I put the gold rings into the waiting container for the gold rings, and pour the rings from the third (not-gold) tray into the "unsorted rings" container. Then I pick out the Antique Copper rings. And so on, through all the colours. I often find that when I get into the groove, the desired colour leaps out at me in the sea of other colours, which makes it even easier to do the sorting.

Now, some would say that this is inefficient, because you are handling the same item more than once. That is true, it is physically inefficient. But I deem that mental exhaustion is such a large part of sorting that it is still more beneficial to reduce the mental exhaustion rather than reducing the physical movement, unless one is, say, moving really large and heavy things.


D. Putting This Into Action


  1. Decide what you are sorting; choose the class.
  2. Make lists. Write these down in one spot, whether that be a notebook, a file on your computer, a personal wiki, a note on your phone, etc.
    • First list: what you are sorting, and potential categories
    • Second list: resources - places where you can do your sorting, places where you can put your sorted items, containers where you can put your items
    • Third list: high-level to-dos - an overview of what needs to be done, with sub-lists which have more detailed things. This also includes prerequisites, and things to get from elsewhere, or buy, or make, that will assist you, such as plastic bags, or archive boxes etc.
  3. Make a To-Do list: the earlier to-do lists need to contain prerequisite items; later to-do lists tend to be focused by category. Remember, don't put too much on a to-do list; the full list is in the Plan.
  4. Do the stuff on today's to-do list, and cross them off as you do them.
  5. Periodically take stock of your Resources and your Things To Sort, revising your Plan accordingly. Likewise, revise your high-level to-do lists if you think of more things or prerequisites that need doing.
  6. Repeat from (3).

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Kathryn A.

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