Dewey Pockets

BBC radio is about to broadcast a programme on Melvil Dewey. Part of the synopsis caught my eye

Dewey was so obsessed with efficiency he had specific pockets for different times of the day.

That is perhaps taking planning to the extreme. ;-)

It may be possible for non-UK based listeners to get the programme live via the web or to use BBC Radio's "Listen Again" feature to catch it after the broadcast. You could try the Radio 4 direct feed the listen again details are now available go here. (Unclear how long the link will last but as it was a one-off it could be availale for a long time.)

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You know, we all have our methods and tricks to get through the day. When I go to work, I always park in the same row. I always keep my chapstick, pocket knife, and nail file in my left front pocket. If I carry a hipster, it's in my right back pocket. I develop a pattern for which purse item goes in which purse pocket. I always stick my keys in a certain place. I have a certain place I hang my purse. The coats go in the coat closet.

All of these little things help me free my mind from repetitive trivia so my day goes smoother. You won't find me hunting all over the house for my purse or my keys. If you know what my car looks like, you can find it in the parking lot just as easily as I can. I always have a box cutter, scissors, and flathead screwdriver on me (pocket knife), and my fingernails never have snags and jaggies for more than a few minutes. I don't have to hunt for a particular item in my purse, I know exactly where they all are.

Taken as a long list, it probably sounds obsessive. But each small habit grew out of being disgusted at having to hunt for something when I was in a hurry. I don't have a lot of pockets, just four in my jeans. Having a bunch more pockets (like in shirts and jackets) would open up more possibilities, I suppose. I can understand having a specific purpose for each pocket. :)


Getting dressed

I too put keys into various pockets, along with mobile phone, pens (for those occasions when I have to work as a notetaker), wallet, and when necessary my smartcard ticket for the London transport system. Back when I wore a watch it was always on my left wrist. I don't see these are trivia or indeed obessive. It just helps make sure that I have everything.

When I have a permanent desk the computer keyboard is directly in front of me, so too the monitor. My phone is always to my left-hand because I'm right-handed and I might have to write notes from the call. Again not really obsession just a technique that I developed because it works.

Even when I go to the gym I put the receipt into the same pocket; so on returning home afterwards I can pull it out and put it in the to-be-shreeded to-stop-identification-theft pile. Though that last action might be seen as obsessive. ;-)

But all this preparation and routine doesn't mean it works or prevents errors. There is a wonderful anecdote in Don Norman's The Psychology of Everyday Things (now retitled The Design of Everyday Things) concerning a jogger who would come home from his run, habitualy take off his sweat-ridden t-shirt and throw it in the laundary basket. One day following this routine automatically he realised that he'd thrown the t-shirt into the toilet instead.

43 folders versus 120 pigeon holes

The narration included a comment that Dewey had a rack above his desk with 120 pigeon holes. Each of his associates had a specific box into which Dewey would put papers for their attention. The papers were ordered by priority and if necessary he'd use coloured inks (notably red). This sounds rather like the 43 folders approach developed from GTD.

However, there's one aspect of Dewey's pigeon holes that really ought not to be emulated. He used this slots as a means of not having to talk to his associates and employees!

Speaking of Pigeon...

There is a wonderful short novel by Patrick Suskind (most known for the Perfume) called _The Pigeon_ (relatively easy to find on Amazon and others).

It's the story of a 30-something bachelor who lives in a small room and has all his routines very, very neatly planned and organized. Every single day, he does the same thing, in the same order.

Until, one day, as he opens his front door to get out, there is a pigeon right there. His life is completely disrupted by this event.

It's a must-read for those of us who are gently obsessed with things...