“Do you have trouble keeping your desk clean!?” I asked that question at a recent conference in South Carolina, and 80 percent of the people in the room raised their hands. Seems we cluttered-desk folks are not alone!
When I first made the decision to systemize our company in 1994, one of my big issues was…How do I just keep my desk clean? I realized that I couldn’t ask people to keep THEIR work stations clean and neat, without me setting the bar.
So I started taking notice and interest in other peoples desks. I asked those who had CLEAN desks how they kept it that way—you know, trying to get some pointers. I even read a book called “File, Don’t Pile.”
I made this a big deal, because it was important for me to get this right. For those who naturally keep a clean desk, you’re probably asking, “What’s all the fuss?”
My personal desk wasn’t just piles of paper; let’s just say it overfloweth on all sides and right on across the floor. It was a poor man’s Niagara of precarious notes, purchase orders and bills, even checks to be signed (if I could find them). Not to mention, parts of things to be fixed or ordered and tools and other items I hadn’t taken time to put back (if they even had a place to go). And somewhere in the pile was a list of ideas on how to IMPROVE my operation! Hmm!
My first attempt to improve my work area had very disappointing results. I came in on a Saturday and spent the whole day cleaning my office and desk. Of course, “clean” is subject to one’s personal concept of that state, and my work area looked great to me for...well, about two days. By Tuesday, it looked like the target of a Scud missile and I was back to square one.
Does this sound at all familiar? Anybody out there?
Things did not get better in my business until I developed and implemented what I call the “100% System of Cleanliness.” I went into great detail about that in my book, “System Busters.”
Some of you know about the “5S of Lean” (sorting, straightening, systematic cleaning, standardizing and sustaining). When I learned that you had to have a PLACE FOR EVERYTHING, and that place had to be CONVENIENT and LABELED, or in a PERMANENT (LABELED) CONTAINER, that’s when I started having success. By permanent container I mean something that looks good and can be cleaned—not just a cardboard box with Sharpie scribbling on the side to identify its contents.
Why do I call it the “100% System of Cleanliness” vs. the 90% System? The simple fact is...
If EVERYTHING (100 percent of all items) does not have a place, then those items without a permanent and convenient location—even if it’s only 10 percent of the total—start to break down the system, and it returns to chaos. That’s why a desk goes back to clutter after just straightening up or even cleaning it.
What IS chaos, anyway? What’s WRONG with a little chaos?
Below are a few quotes from some “well-knowns” on the subject of chaos:
“Sometimes, when there’s literal chaos, it’s like being in a war zone, and that’s kind of exciting. You’re just running through the crowd of people chasing after you, and no one knows what’s going on.”
—Robert Pattinson, English actor, “Twilight” movie
“I'm interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that appears to have no meaning. It seems to me to be the road toward freedom.”
—Jim Morrison, singer/musician, The Doors
“Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty and dies with chaos.”
—Will Durant, Historian/Author of “The History of Civilization.”
I rest my case! Some people actually love to live in chaos—apparently it feels “artistic,” “creative,” even “the road to freedom.”
However, the truth is, businesses that operate in chaos lose money, time, better workers, customers and, eventually, momentum.
I’ve learned that if you can get a company, a department, even just your DESK onto the “100% System of Cleanliness,” it will stay in the high 90s, with minor tweaking.
So, what’s THAT stuff all over your desk? Where does “THAT” go?
It’s a start!
Did I mention? Great systems work!