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The Power of Organization

There are some among us (I am one) who have a dark craving, a carnal desire to have things in predetermined places.

While your spouse might think you have an illness and your children might hide their toys when they see the glint in your eyes – you too have been captured by a passion:

You want to organize.

If this is not you – then don’t waste your time here – you just won’t understand.

But you – you who fascinate at the dream of a place where things are and should be – let’s share in some thoughts.

What Value Exists In Organization?

Here is a firm belief that I have:

 Creativity feeds off of organization.

You might have a great thought in your brain – but it won’t jump out to show its colors until you have a clean and ordered workbench to welcome it.  It’s not to say that organization creates good thoughts, but it contributes to good thoughts surfacing.

So let me say it again – I believe you will do your best work when you are organized.

Not when you are perfectly organized, but when you are adequately organized.  And this is an important point – organization can be a form of procrastination.  Entropy surrounds our every move – not getting started because your kid just knocked over your reheated corn chowder on your lab notebook isn’t an excuse (%^$# Kids!).

So where to start – what really needs organization? Lets take a look.

What To Organize

There are three basic things that I generally think need to be organized.

  1. Ideas

  2. Spaces

  3. Projects

Your Ideas are Tools – Keep them Handy

Your mind is like a game of tetris, all these blocks are falling at you – each one correctly oriented becomes a useful component – but left to its own – they clutter and leave unused spaces.  I use a couple tools to keep my brain organized; goals and mind maps.

Goals

Often I get distracted over the course of a project, I buy parts for 4 other projects before I have even put the first into action.  In a weeks time I have 14 things I should do flooding my brain each one seemingly so important all with little voices “should-ing” all over my weak psyche.

Goals are the rally cry for your fleeting brain.  They yell out amidst the chaos…

“Hey you!  Remember me – that really cool thought you had – that thing that was so awesome just a week ago.  Don’t let me drown – lift me up – we can do this together!”

A goal allows you to focus your mind on something – provides a constructive vehicle to revisit your best thoughts, your highest/awesomest aspirations.

So hey – make some goals – write them down and revisit them regularly.

Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping (the wank word for Brainstorming) allows me to puke my thought life onto something that I can sort through.

I use MindNode for organizing my thoughts – or sometimes I steal giant sheets of construction paper from my kids and go at it with a magic marker.  The medium really doesn’t matter – as long as you capture the flock of ideas migrating across your brain then you will make strides in the organization of your mind.

brainstorming

Another great thing about brainstorming is that it will draw out thoughts that had not occurred to you already.  The very act of organizing your thoughts produces the creative energy that you are seeking.

But thoughts are weak – you need space to make them a reality.

Give Me Some Space to Think

Do you ever picture a mad scientist with a bench covered in components and piles of old parts littered across a lab?  I am sure she can make some awesome stuff – but it is just not my style.

When I organize a space I try to focus on processes. I ask myself what space and tools I need to make things happen.

Let’s take soldering.  First off, do I really solder enough to have a dedicated station for soldering on my limited bench space? If I don’t have a specific place I solder, then are all my soldering tools in the same box?

If I do have a dedicated place to solder, do I have to unplug my power supply and my overhead lights each time or do I have a surge protector setup with enough electrical outlets?

I am trying to destroy the barriers to entry for any task. Here is the bottom line:

When I want to solder, I need to be soldering – not finding the solder.

So let me reiterate this point:  I organize my space on processes – what will I be doing here and how can I be doing it now.

Organizing Projects

When I first got into electronics I found myself trying to organize all types of components.  I would buy expensive multi-tiered organizing systems, or really cheap ones.  Then I would place components in them by different values.

What I always seemed to find was that I either always had too many components for a tray which would leave me to abandon one of my brilliantly conceived systems for organizing.  Or on the flip side, I would only fill half a tray and feel like I was wasting space.

I also bought “variety” packs of components to fill these wonderful trays.  But either I would never get around to actually filling them – or if I did, it would take so much time that I would wonder what the heck I was doing it for.

Finally after years of wasting time, I heard a couple engineers talk about organizing by project.  I first heard Dave Jones mention it on the Amp Hour and then later saw it in action at Henway Technologies, where Roy had a shelf full of boxes in which each project was kept organized.

It takes us back to organizing by process.  When you want to work on a project, wouldn’t it be nice if all the components you needed were in one place?  Or instead would you rather try and remember where you “organized” all the specific components you had bought for it?

It also helps for recall, when you need to scavenge for something.  Having worked on a project with a specific type of component will help you remember that you actually have that component.

Think about your fridge – do you have Worcestershire sauce? Now if you cooked some gourmet squid rings and used the sauce as topping, you are more likely to recall that you do in fact have some (or that you had run out).  Otherwise you are working with the vague memory of having bought a set of four do-dads back in 1984.

Action Jackson

So let’s take a real life example.  I set a goal for 2014 to build a kid makerspace at a local organization where I volunteer.  For a couple years I have always brought in my own equipment (mostly computers), but this school year I had been doing more soldering and hands on tear down stuff, so it became quite a bit of stuff to haul around.

This year they gave me a dedicated space to work with.  Now as nice as it was to have my own space, there was a caveat, the room had previously been the craft room – it was filled from wall to wall with things like beads, macaroni noodles, paper towel rolls and a small fortune of glitter.

makerspace2

My classes had been working in this crafty oasis for the first part of the school year.  Things were going well, but the bug was in me – this space had potential that could be realized with a little bit of organization.

So the first class of the New Year, I had all the students help me purge the crafts into various other locations, remove ancient and unnecessary furniture to dark corners of the building (and a couple to the curve).  We swept up, cleaned up and moved tables and shelves to usable locations.

makerspace

Now I have a shelf space dedicated to each team.  All their stuff for their project is on that shelf.  They know where to find it.  When I order parts for their projects, I will put them in their bin.

I have a table set up for soldering. I have a table established for where I plan to place two Raspberry-PI work stations. I have table in place for general making.  It’s not like I have a ton of space, but I am making much better use of the space I have.

And the best part, only one kid out of dozen complained about cleaning – the rest were excited about the potential of the future – a place where things are organized.

P.S.  It only took 3 hours to clean the room – not too bad.

P.S.S.  There are many exceptions to these thoughts.  I have resistors organized quite beautifully.  And I use boxes to store random motors, switches, etc – which has worked reasonably well.

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