People often consider themselves well organized or highly structured. They believe in this so strongly that they stand by their way of working without respite and fight for it. However a very common side-effect of this is that their work load increases drastically in maintaining this way of work. Now hold on… how does being organized and structured increase workload? Shouldn’t it reduce your workload?
Well it seems the paradox arises due to the simple mis-representation of structure as organization. Why would they be different? They seem to be indicating the same thing. What is the difference? A simple example might help. Let’s say we bring in some structure to our office in the way things are kept. Sounds simple enough. There should be a place for everything and everything should have a place. Straight forward? Ok if you say “paper should always be kept on this table” and “pens should always be kept on that table”, that is structure and organization right? Well it is definitely structure. How about “the pens should be kept next to the papers always”? Makes more sense right? Logically when you need to write you would look for the two together. But wait, we did not say where the two should go, this table or that table? Well this is more organized in terms of being rational and logical but less structured in terms of being a hard and fast rule.
You will find that people who are more organized are saving time and people who are more structured may spend some extra time maintaining the structure. This is not to say that people who are structured are doing something wrong at all times. Just that the point of organization is to bring a logical and intuitive way of looking at things so that extra thought or time is not needed by people to find what they need. So things can seem in a disarray but it should be logically possible to find what you are looking for in the most naturally intuitive manner.
Look around. You will see people who are very efficient with their work but impose no serious boundaries or rules on how their tasks and things are laid out. They are flexible to an extent and when things get a little close to being chaotic, they can quickly jump in re organize everything the way they should be. However in daily routines, they may not do this re organization so frequently and hence save on the time.
On the other hand, you will also see people who always “organize” things in a certain way and do this every time something changes even a little bit. Not one hair out of place, not one paper corner peeping out of its stack is their motto. While it does add to the aesthetic and clean look of their desk, it adds no real value to their daily routines. On the other hand it can become a little cumbersome to others who work with them but are not driven by this outlook.
So then how do you make things more efficient? Well a few simple pointers should help.
First and foremost is to understand that structure always adds overheads, regardless of organization. Why? Because by definition structure is a fixed way of working which means effort will be required to keep enforce this and also effort will be required to slacken it when situation demands. So the best structure is no structure. Impose structure only as a last resort and not by default. Many things will be working fine without a structure, do not change them.
Many people resort to structure for aesthetics. This is good if that bit of aesthetics is going to actually affect your business i.e., it is client/partner facing. In most cases it is just a personal preference and if you look at it objectively may not be necessary. Mind though that it is not just office space we are talking about here. That may have a higher need for aesthetics from a business point of view. However aesthetics when it comes to making documents which are only internally used for temporary collaboration for example may not be worth the time. Do not generalize this and decide on a case to case basis. There have been instances where people have attached precedence to aesthetics in the office so much more than required that the office has turned into good looking space with major utility issues or where people are not comfortable in their spaces. For an office space, the first and foremost rule is comfort for the people working and facilities for their work. Grumpy or stressed people in a great looking office is not projecting a great image of your organization. An decent good-looking space with happy people on the other hand says a lot about your organizational culture and this is what people will invest their time in.
Next thing people get heavily involved in is process structure. They have a certain way of doing things which needs to be followed by everyone who is collaborating together. This is good thing. Here again keep in mind that aesthetics is the last thing to have an impact on process. A process is purely existing to provide efficiency and it has to be effective more than it has to be elegant. As an example, a slightly technical one, it is nice to have people work on a document that is on Dropbox as we feel that it lets you edit documents on your own commuter, a rather elegant solution, but this is not the most efficient as Dropbox is designed for sharing and not collaborating. A service like google drive or office 365 on the other hand is designed for collaboration where multiple people can work on a document together at the same time, although the need to open a browser and navigate to the document may seem inelegant. Still this approach is way more efficient. So know what is the objective of the process and structure it accordingly. If it is sharing, you use Dropbox (people can see the info on their own computer but are not expected to edit it). If it is collaboration use Google Drive. Use what is best suited for the essential work and not what looks best on the surface.