Changing ways of working is about changing the mindset, adopting new tools and finding ways of what works for the individual.
I love caddisfly larvae. This is probably down to reading Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’ back in my dim and distant kindergarten years. The only time they are prettier and more charming than hermit crabs is when man interferes but I admire their ability to make a home for themselves out of selective detritus. Possibly a bit like the average desk user….
Many, many moons ago I had an allocated desk. It was a regular sized, regular desk, with a phone, a chair, a pedestal and a pinnable area. It had just enough clear surface to house my laptop, my forearms and a re-purposed tile sample as a coffee mug coaster. My excuse was how my workload needed to be managed. There were a series of trays (in/out/pending/not sure), really big projects had really big files that sat separately. There were reference books; the company culture, company standards, a few novels I’ve been given but not taken home. The pinboard was covered in….stuff. In my defense, it was all work-related stuff; no family photos, no toys, no plants, no Star Wars figurines balanced across the top of the monitor in regimented chronological order.
At the end of the desk was a 2.5LM storage unit. It was full. Full of samples for old projects, printed reports, paper catalogues and trade magazines. There was even a pull-out filing rail holding a filing system for all work in progress or had been completed in the last 12 months. Once an active job had been completed, it would be filed. Every Christmas I’d go through the files and shred anything created before the previous Christmas. In effect, at the end of each year there would be 24 months of filing to go though.
Then there was the stuff in, on and behind my pedestal. Moods are fickle. Fancies vary. Where one end-user had seven pairs of shoes in her pedestal (not including the commute’s gym shoes and the pair of heels she had on her feet) mine related to breakfast fads and fancies, which happened at the office because, sometimes, caffeine just isn’t enough.
One day I had an epiphany. It coincided with a lessened workload therefore space to think. So I chucked everything out. Everything.
- Filing? The business had more computers than people, a network and our team had online filing. Who needs to keep paper copies, too? It all went. All in one go.
- Trade Mags? Scan & electronically file anything you’re going to use, URL bookmark companies/products of interest, register for online magazine issues and chuck the paper copies into the recycling bin.
- Samples? I used them once in a blue moon. Off it all went to the local primary school to help out with their arts and crafts.
- Trade catalogues? They change every year. Trees give you oxygen, you should love them above the printed page. Recycle what you have and never accept another paper catalogue or price list again.
- In/Out trays? This turned into an A5 notebook for actions to complete.
These days, I have reduced further still. Six months ago I was getting through a standard A5 book a quarter. These days I’m working on reducing this to one book per half year as I wean myself off the unbelievably cathartic, deeply satisfying and emotionally rewarding act of crossing items of a list. Admittedly, sometimes with lots and lots of crossing-out along with accusations of having a marginally psychotic gleam in my eye. I blame the caffeine.
There have been years of trying different task management platforms, of looking for ways to combine a preferred way of working with whatever is available (and free), all in an effort to streamline effectively – and not have to carry everything around.
There’s an online project management tool now replacing that A5 book of mine. It cross references by task and by calendar giving multiple ways to track progress. It rewards every ticked item with flying unicorns, narwhals, hummingbirds, rainbows and some kind of flying monkey-buffalo thing. Silly? Possibly. But it does give one an enormous sense of gleeful satisfaction.
These days, everything is on GDrive. Nothing is kept on my laptop. The obvious positives are that I/the team can always access everything – and we can work anywhere.
One of the more challenging aspects about workplaces is that people ‘nest’ their desks, like I used to; it marks their territory and gives them comfort. Generally, a heavily personalised/covered desk is a sign that the end user will find any change to their workplace challenging, even if they get to keep their desk. It is hard to let go of all the ‘me’ that surrounds them; but letting go is liberating and confidence building.
I like caddisflies not just for their larvae’s case-making abilities but also for the fact that they start in one medium (water) and move to another (air). They are not constrained by what they are born into but are released as they grow. They let go of that which becomes unnecessary and take flight.