Team Hack #3: Organizing Your Life

Because my life includes a substantial amount of travel, I have learned some things about hotel rooms. I know that Orlando is still the best dollar for value city anywhere, with rooms in palatial buildings costing me $60-75 a night (thank the Lord for priceline – name your own price!). I know where in the hotel I don’t want to stay (the room next to or across from any exit point, (elevator or maintenance room). A third thing I know, as sure as I am breathing, is that organizing my room is the secret to a good trip. You may laugh, but I try to put my things in the exact same place in every room I stay. If I need something in the dark of a night, I can find it without turning on a light. My toiletries are placed in the same order (sounds OCD doesn’t it). But it helps.

The problem comes when I am traveling with my sweetheart, or my kids or colleagues. They move things. It can become the subject of some tension when I can’t find something that I reach for on my way out the door and haven’t left time to search around. One of the tips I took some time ago from leadership books was to try to organize my life. The life organizer Gina Trapani has written a number of articles on this.

Any team must decide where to keep the uniforms. In other words, we can’t build solid communication between us on detailed plans for next quarter if we can’t agree on where to recharge the cell phones in the office. We can’t use each other’s files if we all keep a different filing system (we will talk in another hack about organizing files in the computer later). We must agree on the “common space” and the “common needs”. In the school where I teach, each student has a bed and desk that belong to them for the year. In addition, they have some common areas. In the common areas the cleaning and the organizing becomes an issue each year, as the students must learn the principle of “Team Organization”.

The principle is this: “For the good of the team we must agree to maintain common areas and property by putting each item where we have predetermined it should go.” If everyone moves one thing and places it somewhere else in a dorm of twelve students or an office of five workers, all will be completely disorganized in one week.

There is a natural law of organization. All of us have experienced it. Have you ever put a flat surface (like a table, cabinet or dresser) next to an entry door? What happens? Within a short time, a pile forms of collected “stuff” on the surface. The natural law of organization is that we will put things in the easiest place to put them down, not in the easiest way to find them. In that way we make life easier on the front end, but harder on the back end. We don’t naturally place something according to the “finding point”. In a way, “we sabotage our future” (Trapani’s expression for it). She’s right!

Hack #3 is to organize all common space in the office according to two guidelines. First, what location for this item makes the most sense to the team (where will they naturally expect it to be). If we all decide each time we buy coffee where we will put it, we will spend an inordinate amount to time looking for it every time we go to make it. A simple discussion in the team on common space can eliminate any mystery when a sudden coffee urge overpowers us.

Second, how can we make that location easier to get to without intermediate points. If each team member has an inbox or “hotfile” (a wall mounted inbox outside or inside their office door), we don’t want to have a “general inbox” near the front door. If we did, we wouldn’t be sure if a new item went to our box or was still in the holding bin.

Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised. In our homes and in our offices, common space needs to be defined by or for the team, refined over time and maintained. We have to agree to do it together, or someone will end up being the “mom” and doing it for us. Since most offices don’t have a “mom”, we probably need to do it for ourselves.