How I Organize Myself

How I Organize Myself

I get asked every so often how I organize myself. Most recently it was with an ecommerce developer. I found that he had 7  years of experience in the platform my company used, so I hired him as a consultant.

We met via discord, since it had VoIP and screensharing features. We talked for an hour. Eventually, he wanted to know what kind of client I was, so he asked this:

I’m not sure why this was asked but this was my response

Oh was he going to be in for a surprise. I couldn’t get my camera photo to upload so he sent a pic of his workstation first

Just your typical reddit r/battlestations, beautifully well done work environment. Very clean, organized, and uncluttered. Its what everyone should aspire to have for a work station.

I decided to post my setup…

I got this response

People always have mixed feelings when they see my workspace. At first glance, it looks like a pile of **** with no sense of organization. But that’s far from the truth, I consider my work environment to be extremely organized. I just have dedicated “clean” areas (the space where my keyboard sits) and a dedicated “dirty” section (to the left and right side)

Gray

You might be wandering why I’m okay with this. I don’t see things in black and white. I grew up in a very gray area doing very gray things (another post some other day).

Because of this I always see both perspectives of the same coin. For instance, great teachers are also great interrogators. Prior drug dealers make great entrepreneurs. Pornsites pulloff impressive technical feats on par with youtube. You can learn how to build computers in minecraft. You can also learn leadership, stocktrading, and entrepreneurship by playing MMOs.

I draw parallels across both good and bad parts of many industries. Because I am not bound by seeing things as either black or white. I see value in everything.

This is how I see myself on organizing my desk VS how I see the guy I hired did (might be over simplified.). 

   VS  

The left image indicates my perspective. It has a massive gray mesh. Because things are always messy in nature, that’s just entropy. But you can pick and choose how those unorganized things are organized. Whereas someone who has a black / white perspective defines clean and organized with one view.

 

Rules to Manage Chaos

I do abide by a set of rules though within this gray mesh. It does get chaotic to some degree. I made a decision matrix on deciding how I go about organizing things. I call it UPIE, which stands for:

  • Unpolluted vs Polluted
  • Internal vs External

You can dumb this down into a 2×2 selection matrix

Why does this matter?

You might be asking yourself this. The reason is thusly:

Everything is organized in 4 ways

Again, why does this matter?

How you deal with each section is the same across the board

For instance, how you organize all things related to polluted external is the same across the board. And how you organize things in unpolluted internal are all the same in its category


Polluted External

For instance, say we’re dealing with polluted external information. Let’s name some examples:

  • Emails
  • Your friends social media feeds
  • TV News
  • Youtube Ads

How does one organize all this information effectively?

  • Emails → Unsubscribe to spam emails, add filters
  • Your friends social media feeds → Unsubscribe to friends who constantly spam social media
  • TV News → use curated news from a few sources instead
  • Youtube Ads → block it entirely

When you are dealing with polluted external information, the best way is to make it unpollutedThis means eliminating spam and intake / funneling information into a useful form you can digest. Some sources will curate this information for you (hackernews, for tech news). Others do not let you have this control (e.g. facebook)

Polluted Internal

Let’s say we’re now talking about polluted internal information

What are some examples?

  • Notes made during class
  • Journaling
  • Drafting ideas on paper
  • Hashing out ideas

How does one organize this information effectively?

  • Notes made during class → Use the cornell notetaking method, summarize notes, make one giant outline of everything at end
  • Journaling → Organize it by the day
  • Drafting ideas on paper → Organize it by chronological date order
  • Hashing out ideas → Stick it in a “maybe” section for later

In any case, what you also are doing is trying to make this as unpolluted as possible. You do this by organizing in a way that is interpreted in only one way. E.g. Chronological order, A-Z alphabetical order, a dedicated section just for it, something structured

Unpolluted External

Let’s say we’re talking about unpolluted external information

What are some examples?

  • Courses & Textbooks
  • Documentation Guides

How does one organize this information effectively?

  • Courses & Textbooks → Break down information & take notes
  • Documentation Guides → Bookmark it & apply it in projects

In any case, the information is organized already as is. You just need to make it your own. What you should do is internalize the information as much as possible.

Unpolluted Internal

Let’s say we’re talking about unpolluted internal information

What are some examples?

  • Stories
  • Skillsets

How does one organize this information effectively?

  • Stories → Write a blog post, tell it to someone else
  • Skillsets → Practicing it in your job. Teach it to someone else. Write cheatsheets, flashcards

This is what you should strive to achieve when organizing things and information in general. It naturally wants to go back into an entropy state, so you need to maintain it


So how does this compare to Physical Organization?

I mentioned how this matrix is useful for organizing IoT (internet of things) types of information. But, what about physical things in nature?

  • Polluted External →  This is like a shared coworking space. Keep your stuff seperate from other people’s stuff.
  • Unpolluted External → This is stickynote memos you make for reminders of company deadlines and events, or meeting notes with a client
  • Polluted Internal →  This is when you are organizing things and aren’t sure of where they go, so you lump them together in your drawer
  • Unpolluted Internal – This is the space you keep pristine, its usually right in front of you next to your keyboard

In Summary

That’s my rationale on how I organize things. I don’t see value in trying to keep everything crystal clean (unpolluted internal) because that’s not how things work in nature. You simply are wasting time fighting entropy. Things & people are going to violate your workspace regardless, you might as well know how to deal with it in advance.

I use this matrix to figure out how to organize everything. This is anything from organizing a large codebase, all the way down to my workout/library/treadmill-desk setup you saw in the beginning of the post. It also details how I learn things in general

There’s a few more notes to make. If you want to be :

  • Organized, aim to be as unpolluted as possible
  • Generate ideas, aim to be as polluted as possible
  • Retain knowledge, aim to be as internal as possible
  • Keep tabs on many things, aim to be as external as possible

And in summary for organizing & learning things in general

  • Polluted External → Make it unpolluted
  • Polluted Internal → Make it unpolluted
  • Unpolluted External → Internalize it and make it your own
  • Unpolluted Internal → Maintain it

I made a process flowmap summarizing how I organize myself

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