Rewind: Creation and Chaotic Residue, Part 2

Reflecting on my past writing is always a fun time. Yesterday I mentioned a post my wife wrote and how it reminded me of a few articles I’d written years ago about “chaotic residue.”1

Here’s part two of that series:

In my last article, I talked about how the process of making things leaves behind residue, noting that “creating order and beauty out of raw material creates chaos as a by-product.” Here is an excerpt:

The reality is that you have a number of choices to make in what you need to do, and that is never the same as what is being required of you in a given moment. So, everyday, we choose which things to neglect, in which order, in our quest to accomplish what we need to accomplish. On good days, we neglect well, accomplish well, and have made steps forward by the end.

And I ended with this statement, which we’ll tackle today:

Perhaps a good way to explain this is to say that I’ve always found (and maybe you have too) that in any project there is a strong tension between progress and organization.

First, I want to acknowledge that these two, progress and organization, are interdependent, so let me give you an example to explain what I mean by tension.

I’m currently remodeling the bathroom in my house, and I have a rather tight timeframe in which to finish the job. Before I tell you more about that, though, you should know that I’m the type of person who keeps my belongings very organized – my desks at both home and work, are generally clear, organized, and ready for any type of work when you sit down. The same goes for my tools.

As I’ve pushed hard each night to make progress on the bathroom, I’ve found that keeping my tools in perfectly neat order, and keeping the workspace constantly clean, is a lost cause if I want to crank out a serious amount of work in a short amount of time.

And that’s where we find the variable that makes this subject so interesting: time. If I have 3 hours to hang as much drywall as I possibly can, the room is going to messy with dust, debris, and scraps, and scattered tools. That’s the nature of triaging and choosing to neglect as I mentioned above.

For flowers, bathroom remodeling, my daily work at Brains on Fire, and quite possibly the work you do, we have to constantly answer the question: how much organization is necessary in order to make what I’m making in a reasonable (or necessary) time?

This may seem overly simple, but I believe the answer might go something like this:

The highest level of organization necessary is the minimum amount that allows for the most progress.

In other words, don’t let organization get in the way. And don’t let disorganization get in the way. Constantly tweaking your to-do list system doesn’t mean you are actually accomplishing anything on that list, and on the flip side, not having a clear vision of tasks you need to complete doesn’t accomplish much either.

This has been my advice to myself recently:

  • Find a system that works well, not perfectly. That system doesn’t exist.
  • Make as much as possible.
  • Stay organized; it makes you more productive.
  • Never sacrifice productivity for organization unnecessarily.
  • Be OK with the residue you create as a byproduct of making as much as you can.

Cleaning up after a finished product is almost always easier than you think.

1. You can read the first post about my wife’s blog and my old articles here.

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