The best way to organize things, whether they’re physical or digital, is to accept the mess for a while. That’s why my strategy for organizing things is to always start with a messy environment, a blank canvas to play with. However there’s a catch: I have to pay close attention to what I’m constantly searching for and using.

It is only after rearranging things again and again and learning my necessities that I am finally ready to begin building the system that will meet my needs. But, there is no doubt in my mind that that will not be the final version. The world around us constantly changes, and we must adapt to keep up.

The tricky part is figuring out the exact moment when the messy stage has to give way to some order. I like to use a concept I borrowed from economics: Transactions Costs. In other words, if the mess is making me less and less productive, it’s time to pause and organize by choosing the best workflow I’ve come up with so far.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to watch the video below. It’s about an Evernote notebook being built from empty to fully functional. It started out messy, and I added tags, links, etc. as I learned what I was constantly looking for and using.

And like I said before, it’s a strategy that works in both the digital and physical worlds. Last week, I finally organized my workbench inspired by the way I moved objects around when I was working on the Apple IIe restoration project. I’m pretty happy with the final result, but I already had new ideas for it.

The messy approach is also a way to foster creativity. There are many good books about this subject. There’s one literally titled Messy, but The Click Moment and Algorithms to Live By also discuss it.

Moving things around forces us to look at a problem from a different perspective, which helps us come up with unexpected solutions. But it is important to keep in mind that the project on which we are currently working is not our sole concern. In my case, the messy workspace was also a project in progress.

Take a look at the shelf and the soldering station; they are all made from scrap wood. By the way, I love that cool industrial vibe. You can even tell from the black circles on one of the shelf legs that the piece of wood was once below the table glass. It was a test; I was trying to figure out how many crossbars I needed to keep everything stable and I ended up replacing the studs with the thicker ones that are there now. As for the rest of the replaced pieces wood, they were used on other projects.

But there are more repurposed materials. The desk itself is made up of the top glass of an old kitchen table, supported by some cheap Ikea trestles. As for that Chromebook, it will not get Chrome OS updates anymore, but it is still good enough for Google searches and the Evernote web client.

So, the next time you are working on a complex project, don’t be too hard on yourself. Every so often, a little mess is what you need to unlock a solution that was always there, but you couldn’t see.

By the way, switching to another project also works, but that’s a story for another time.


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