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Organized Mess

Trey Reely | April 2009

    Sometimes I wonder how I find anything in my office. It’s not that I’m disorganized (far from it), but the sheer volume of paper a director collects seems to defy perfect organization. If there is a perfect system, I’m not sure I could handle it anyway. My brain only functions properly if all of my papers are stacked in many small piles spread on every flat surface available. This is certainly genetic; both of my parents are spreaders and pilers. I have piles for various types of music, magazines, budget documents, and even piles that don’t fit in other piles. A few piles are historical, layered like time periods in sedimentary rock.
    You might wonder why I don’t put these papers in a file cabinet. I do use files, but as any spreader and piler can tell you, there are many papers that are needed at a moment’s notice. It doesn’t matter that some papers in the piles have been there since the Reagan administration. Also, there is a study by a woman named Dianna Dooher that says we never look again at 75 to 85% of filed documents. I’d never doom important paperwork to such a fate by filing it.
    There is a method to all of this spreading and piling. Having the piles spread before me makes it easier to survey the tasks at hand – everything I have to do or think about is out in the open. I have even added a card table to my home office for more piles.
    I admit that there is some tension at home because my piles tend to spread like a slow-moving skin disease, one table at a time. After intense negotiations with my wife, I agreed to confine all papers to my home and work offices. The agreement did allow emergency use of the dining room table for specified periods of time in which we were having no visitors. For her part she agreed never again to refer to me as a clutter bug. The deal was not reached before she sacreligiously fingered through some of my piles and questioned their importance. I was allowed to keep the card table even though she insisted that it ruined the stateliness of my room.
    As much as I like my system, organization through piles does hurt my efficiency in one way. Let me preface this though by mentioning that I have always been amazed at how my wife insists on a spotless house when we leave for a trip even though no one will be in the house while we are gone. She says she does not want to return to a dirty house, but I suspect she is really more concerned with her legacy. If we were in a tragic accident while on vacation, it would just just kill her to know visitors were making fun of her cleaning. “She was such a wonderful woman, but did you hear about how messy her house was?” I say who needs friends like that?
    I have grown less judgmental upon discovering that I operate in much the same way. If my piles are not arranged logically and neatly, I cannot do any other work. Unfortunately, this often results in accomplishing no work other than straightening the piles.
    Spreading and piling does take up a lot of room, and I might have to break down and buy another cabinet. On the plus side, the tops of file cabinets are great places to put more piles.