How I.T. folks can get rid of clutter

Let’s face it, every I.T. person has at least one.

The dreaded box of cables.  Many of us have more than one. Over the years, in the guise of organization I have ended up with several of these boxes.  They were in categories. Power supplies, monitor cables, ethernet, etc. We have all been in a situation where we needed a cable at 3AM or in a pinch when a buddy calls needing a firewire cable.

 

 

 

 

So what is a geek to do?
Let’s talk about how to get organized and get rid of those boxes of cables and other I.T. related stuff. It’s all about baby steps and a process. There is an ingrained fear in all I.T. people where the mind thinks, “I may need that someday”. this fear can be paralyzing for some and ignored by others. This fear is still here, though. I have broken this process into two stages.  In the first stage, I call a quick and dirty stage.  These first four steps are designed not to take very long, but immediately give you more space. Don’t spend time worrying about what to keep, except for duplicates I talk about in Step 3. The goal is to find out what you have, classify it, weed out, and gain space by uniformity.

Stage1
Step 1 – Preparation

Find all your boxes. Get them in one location. Invite some buddies over, turn on some music, or whatever it takes to keep yourself motivated for the task at hand.  I sort better when I have someone to pass the time with, even if they don’t know what they are sorting.  Get yourself some sorting boxes.  I started sorting with cardboard boxes because they were easy to get my hands on and were free.

Step 2 – Classification
If you have your boxes already organized into things like power cables, monitor cables, computer parts,etc. then you can skip this step.  If not your goal in this step is to take your boxes and quickly sort into categories.  Don’t worry about getting too granular with this process.   You will find a natural fit depending on what you have.

Step 3 – Weeding out
Once you have things into classification boxes, take each box one at a time and empty it out. Anything more than one of anything, throw the duplicates in a box of their own.  If this gives you too much anxiety save two.  Feel yourself wanting to save more than two of the same thing? Yo Don’t need more than two.  If it’s something that is broken through it in a special “To-Do” box.  We will talk about this later. Anything you have more than two of sell, give away or donate.

Step 4 – Uniformity
At this stage, you should have several smaller boxes with one thing, maybe a second, of everything you have sorted.  The rest is in one big box or smaller categorized boxes. Go out and buy yourself plastic totes for storage to replace your cardboard boxes. We aren’t done so don’t think “I could have told you all of this dummy”.

Storing things in plastic totes helps in many ways.  First, it saves space by making things uniform.  Uniform totes stack better than boxes of varying sizes. Secondly, it preserves the things inside from water damage, bugs, and other environmental influences.  Thirdly, plastic totes are reusable for other projects.

Up until now, this is all pretty common sense.  Many of you may have done some of this already.  Now comes the beauty.

Stage 2
Step 1 – First month
After a month of having these neatly organized totes pull out your “To-Do” box Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it worth fixing?
  • Do I need to fix it?
  • Do I really need it?
  • Will I use it in the next month? If the answer is “I don’t know” then it’s a no.

Don’t try to fix it at this point. Don’t test it.  Just ask yourself the above questions. If you can’t honestly answer the questions put it back in the box.

Step 2 – 3 months
After 3 months if you have not touched anything in your To-Do box pull it back out. This time ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I need to send this somewhere to get fixed?
  • What do I need to do in order to fix this?
  • Is it worth fixing?

At this point, you have not used it in three months.  This should give you an indication of how important and necessary it is to you.  If it has sat for three months it most likely sits for another three months.  Do something with it.  If you can’t put it back in the box.

Step 3 – 6 months
Spend another afternoon or set aside time to go through all of your totes. Ask yourself the following questions

  • Have I needed one of these in the past 6 months?
  • Has something replaced this?
  • How much are these on Amazon, at Best Buy, or somewhere similar?

At this point, anything you have not touched in six months needs to go into long term storage, be sold, or given away. Those are your three options. Long term storage should be your last option because if you follow these steps, it will be just another set of totes you have to go through in six months. After six months of sitting in long term storage it is probably out of date in the I.T. world.  If not, it should be sold if any value is left.

Within six months, the human mind should be able to rationalize all of the things you really need to get rid of.  By re-visiting these boxes a few times, you are re-enforcing the decision to get rid of things. The reason you are saving it is in your mind, so you need the above steps to convince that part of your psyche to let go.

Rational and my experiences
I tell myself I am a collector, not a hoarder.  Anyone who knows me knows I have a huge Gi Joe collection

Part of my Gi Joe collection

Over the years, I have amassed duplicates of figures.  The same has happened with computer parts, old networking equipment, cables, and all kinds of things.  It got to the point I had boxes stacked full of anything and everything. It got to the point it was overwhelming and did not know where to start.  At one point, I probably had over 200 boxes of “stuff” in various cubby holes, garages, shelves, closets, and anywhere I could stuff boxes. If I wanted to work on something, my typical day involved moving boxes around so that I could find stuff or get to the room or tools.

One day I just started going through and classifying stuff.  I started out with totes of stuff to sell, trash bags of stuff I had no idea why I was keeping, and totes of stuff I wanted to keep.  This helped but was not enough. I had space, but it was still a lot of work to do anything. This is when I started the above process.  At first, it’s hard.  You think you need everything or will need everything. Many of the things I was storing I had bought on clearance or in a deal.

This should not be a goal. This is something to get away from.

As you go through this process, you will find the boxes are getting smaller and more granular. A great example is all the mobile phone accessories I had. I took all of that and there it into one tote as I was sorting. I did not worry about what it was as long as it dealt with a cellular phone. One I got to the end of my sorting, and I figured I had found all the phone accessories I had, I took a deeper dive.

The first thing I did was weed out all my old phone cases, Nokia chargers, and ancient gear. This old gear is stuff no one wants. Anything that could be recycled went to a recycled box. The rest is trash. This useless stuff amounted to about thirty percent of my tote. Next up, I came across Android cables. These were mainly mini and micro USB. I did not want to throw any of these away, so I put them all in a smaller tote that was just mini and micro USB cables.

Next up was my iPhone accessories. Everyone in my house uses an iPhone. Charge cables are things that break, and you always need one. What I did was make sure each car had an accessory outlet charger and at least two charge cables. Many times we would be driving down the road, and two people need to charge their phones. Every one of my cars had previously been outfitted with at least a dual USB outlet charger. Any extra charge cables went into a smaller see-through tote and stored in my office.

Finally, all of the accessories such as headphones, Bluetooth, etc. were looked at. I kept us each a pair of headphones and put everything else in a tote of stuff to sell. I had no use for this stuff and no reason to keep it.

There are tons of books and programs on how to get organized. This system has what has been working for me. I went from 200 totes a year ago to around 50 today. I am still weeding out and de-cluttering, but it isn’t paralyzing as it used to me.

Does this apply to everyone? Of course not. I have seen computer stores with the same power supply on their shelf for ten years. Sell the thing at a loss and use the space for something more productive because what happens is that one thing turns into ten, then twenty, and next thing you know, you are out of room.

Fear in I.T.

I have always been a firm believer in re-evaluating yourself on a regular basis. Take a look at yourself, your behaviors, and your quirks. By doing this, you can uncover weaknesses you. Read to work on, but also build on your strengths.

Case in point. I am in the process of rolling out wiki software for many clients. This software deployment will be a cookie cutter rollout, with customizations for each client after the initial implementation. I am behind on this for one big reason. Fear. Now, this is not Michael Meyers standing over your bed fear. It’s a fear of choosing the wrong platform. I have evaluated several wiki packages and talked to several people deploying each of them. Like most things, they have strengths and weaknesses. The fear breeds indecision. Is there something out there which I haven’t found that is better? Is there a better way or a way I haven’t thought of to accomplish what I am trying? The answer to all of these is probably yes.

How do you not fall into the trap of indecision? Couple of things you can do.

1. Before anything like this sit-down and write out the problem you are trying to solve. In my case with the wikis, I needed something to keep track of not only documentation but the odds and ends notes.

2. Write down what would help solve the issue. In my case an online repository of information.

3. Create a list of ways to solve this problem. This step may involve research. What are the software packages out there to address my issue? Are we utilizing anything today which could resolve this issue?

3. Once you have done some research formulate the must needed features in your solution.  From there prioritize them.

4. Many people start to break down during this stage.  Whether it is getting overwhelmed from the sheer amount of choices or thinking every feature is needed.  The decision process begins to grind to a halt rather quickly. How do you overcome this? First, be realistic, how many of the features do you really need to accomplish your goal? Out of the features left, what does it take to implement them? How many times have you deployed a software tool and are only utilizing a fraction of the tools available? This happens quite a bit.

5.Set a hard time to make a decision.  Tell yourself you have ten business days to research and come up with the solution.  Once you have made the decision, have a rollout plan in place.  This plan should include a timeline of start and finish.  This way you don’t start to second guess yourself and drag your feet even more.

This method is not a foolproof way, but it will get you to implement more things than you are now.