I have a problem. My desk is mess.
The nature of my work makes it very difficult to complete tasks in a linear fashion; from start to finish. Interruptions are inherent in my job. I begin each day with a “to do” list and a plan, but invariably more urgent things arise and the items on the list get pushed aside.
I will plan to devote a day to my charting or to calling patients but then, in the middle of this, I will have to start working on something else that takes precedence. I do get back to the previous task, but it sometimes isn’t until the next day.
This results in a backlog of unfinished work that sits on my desk, organized (and I use that term very loosely) into piles. I still know where everything is. It might be under a pile of other things but, after a quick search, I’ll put my hands on it.
It actually doesn’t bother me at all, but I’m worried about one of my coworkers.
We have known each other for 12 years, worked together previously in a different area of the hospital, and have become good friends. I’ll call her “Jill” for privacy purposes.
Jill is a self-admitted sufferer of OCD. She is not on the far end of the spectrum where she has to flick the lights 4 times before leaving the room or anything but she is compulsively organized. Her desk is pretty much always clear, except for her computer, blotter, in-box and whichever chart she is currently working on. She also has a pen/pencil holder which only holds working pens and sharp pencils and is always neatly lined up with her stapler.
In short, she has just the right amount of compulsiveness to be awesome at managing projects and running databases and registries which, conveniently, is her job.
Sadly, for her, it also means she has to come into my office multiple times a day.
You see, I have a private office but I also have all of the charts in my cabinets. As the database manager, Jill is in and out of these cabinets frequently. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see her cringing over the state of my desk.
Every few weeks it will just be a little too much for her to bear and she will be stopped in her tracks, sighing and shaking her head in despair. She then offers to help file things away, but that won’t work because I’m still “in the middle” of the work.
For my first six months in the office, I had a pile of papers on my windowsill. They were the remnants of a project I was still finishing off for my last position. I had them there because I would receive a call or e-mail every now and then and needed them readily accessible.
I would frequently catch her staring at the pile with a little crinkle of disgust on her nose. One day I asked her straight out, “That pile drives you crazy, doesn’t it?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “How can you stand to have that there blocking your view out the window?” (The pile was only about 10 centimeters high, nothing worth seeing was being blocked.)
I explained that this was neurology related stuff that I needed to have with me here rather than across the street at my other office.
“But can’t you put it away in a drawer, or something?”
Honestly, that hadn’t even occurred to me!
So after she left, I slipped the pile into a drawer and waited for her to return. She was back in about 10 minutes to get another chart.
“Notice anything?” I asked.
Jill’s face lit up, diffuse with happiness. “You moved the pile for me? Thank you!”
“Of course,” I said, “Anything for you.”
I vow that tomorrow, come hell or high water, I will get those piles of charts off my desk just to see if I can bring that light back into Jill’s face.