Category Archives: organization

Yay more food containers!

When we started cooking in bulk, we standardized on the Rubbermaid Takealongs Sandwich Keepers (7F58RDFCLR). The inexpensive containers were the right size for lunches. They stacked and nested well, too. I picked up 24 or so over several shopping trips, enough to handle a couple of weeks of lunches for W- and me.

Having discovered the success and convenience of this approach, we decided to scale up. Problem: Rubbermaid had apparently discontinued the product! They still sold Takealongs in different sizes, but the only way to get the shallow square containers was to buy them in a set or to pay a much higher price online. We didn’t want to buy a new system and end up with incompatible pieces. We looked all over for them throughout the year: Canadian Tire, Walmart, Zellers, Sears…

Today, W- finally found the Sandwich Keepers at Walmart while looking for some DVDs. Some were pink (cancer fundraising) and the rest were the usual red, so we guessed Walmart was clearing them out. W- brought home 13 packs of 4 pieces each. Yay! Now we can use up the other ingredients from the freezer and experiment with cooking a month of lunches in advance. Wouldn’t that be nifty!

Reducing clutter in the kitchen

I know what January’s experiment will be: reducing clutter in the kitchen.

We’ve started. The kitchen table is the hardest target. We use it everyday for so many different activities. The surface fills up quickly: laptops, power cords, mice, books, plates, glasses. We’re developing the habit of clearing it every night, keeping only the lamp, the power hub, and a bowl full of fruit. Everything else goes into cubbyholes or shelves.

Corollary: Doing one thing at a time, although it’s hard to avoid the temptation to work while eating lunch or to read through dinner.

The kitchen sink is a good target, too. We used to leave dishes there while waiting for the dishwasher to finish, and sometimes if we didn’t have the time to empty the dishwasher. It wasn’t a bad system – we cleared the dishes before they got crusty – but still, a single dish acted as a nucleus that attracted other dirty dishes, even when the dishwasher was empty and ready for another batch. Now we make a point of emptying the dishwasher before meals, filling it up as much as possible, and washing dishes by hand if needed. W- is looking into fixing the top drawer of the dishwasher so that we can streamline this too.

I’m not going to make any grand year-long resolutions. One experiment at a time, one small and concrete change each month – that’s enough.

Tracking and organizing my clothes: substituting mathematics for fashion sense

Thumbnails of clothes

Inspired by my sister’s photo-assisted organization of her shoes, I decided to tackle my wardrobe. Taking an inventory would make it easier to simplify, replace, or supplement my clothes. Analyzing colour would help me substitute mathematics for a sense of style. Combining the images with the clothes log I’ve been keeping would make it easier to see patterns and maybe do some interesting visualizations. Geek time!

I took pictures of all my clothes against a convenient white wall. I corrected the images using Bibble 5 Pro and renamed the files to match my clothes-tracking database, creating new records as needed. AutoHotkey and Colorette made the task of choosing representative colours much less tedious than it would’ve been otherwise. After I created a spreadsheet of IDs, representative colours, and tags, I imported the data into my Rails-based personal dashboard, programming in new functionality along the way. (Emacs keyboard macros + Rails console = quick and easy data munging.) I used Acts as Taggable On for additional structure.

It turns out that the math for complementary and triadic colour schemes is easy when you convert RGB to HSL (hue, saturation, lightness). I used the Color gem for my RGB-HSL conversions, then calculated the complementary and triadic colours by adding or subtracting degrees as needed (180 for complementary, +/- 120 for triadic).

Here’s what the detailed view looks like now:


And the clothing log:


Clothing summary, sorted by frequency (30 days of data as of writing)



  • White balance and exposure are a little off in some shots. I tweaked some representative colours to account for that. It would be neat to get that all sorted out, and maybe drop out the background too. It’s fine the way it is. =)
  • Matches are suggested based on tags, and are not yet sorted by colour. Sorting by colour or some kind of relevance factor would be extra cool.
  • Sorting by hue can be tricky. Maybe there’s a better way to do this…
  • My colour combinations don’t quite agree with other color scheme calculators I’ve tried. They’re in the right neighbourhood, at least. Rounding errors?
  • I’ll keep an eye out for accessories that match triadic colours for the clothes I most frequently wear.
  • Quick stats: 28 casual tops, 15 skirts, 12 office-type tops, 8 pairs of pants, 5 pairs of slacks – yes, there’s definitely room to trim. It would be interesting to visualize this further. Graph theory can help me figure out if there are clothing combinations that will help me simplify my wardrobe, and it might be fun to plot colours and perhaps usage. Hmm…

Other resources:

Book: Leading Outside the Lines

zebraI want to get really good at being a fast zebra. The metaphor comes from Leading Outside the Lines, Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan’s book on working with the informal organizational structure. According to Mark Wallace (former US ambassador to the United Nations), fast zebras are people who can absorb information and adapt to challenges quickly. The authors explain, “On the African savannah, it is the fast zebra that survives a visit to the watering hole, drinking quickly and moving on, while the slower herd members fall prey to predators lurking in the shadows. The fast zebra is, in essence, a person who knows how to draw on both the formal and informal organizations with equal facility.”

It seems like a business cliche – who wouldn’t want to absorb information and adapt to challenges quickly? – but Katzenbach and Khan go into more detail. “They help the formal organization get unstuck when surprises come its way, or when it’s time to head in a new direction. They have the ability to understand how the organization works, and the street smarts to figure out how to get around stubborn obstacles. They draw on values and personal relationships to help people make choices that align with overall strategy and get around misguided policy. They draw on networks to form teams that collaborate on problems not owned by any formal structure. They tap into different sources of pride to motivate the behaviors ignored by formal reward systems.”

Like the loneliness facing early adopters, fast zebras can feel isolated. Identifying and connecting fast zebras can help them move faster and make more of a difference.

I can think of many fast zebras in IBM. People like Robi Brunner, John Handy Bosma, and Jean-Francois Chenier work across organizational lines to make things happen. Lotus Connections and other collaboration tools make a big difference in our ability to connect and self-organize around things that need to be done. They also provide informal channels for motivation, which is important because this kind of boundary-spanning work often doesn’t result in formal recognition (at least in the beginning).

The book describes characteristics of organizations that successfully integrate formal and informal structures, and it has practical advice for people at all levels. It also has plenty of stories from organizational role models. My takeaway? Harnessing the informal organization and helping people discover intrinsic motivation for their work can make significant differences in an organization’s ability to react, so it’s worth learning more about that. Recommended reading.

Leading Outside the Lines
Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan
Published by John Wiley and Sons, 2010

Wiki organization challenge – thinking out loud

I’m working on organizing the training material for three workshops that we’re bringing together. Our goals are to share common practices and tips, while making it easy for people to find workshop-specific information. I should store the information in a Lotus Connections community wiki, as WikiCentral is deprecated. Lotus Connections wikis don’t have the {include} macro yet, so I can’t reuse chunks of material easily. My challenge is: how can I organize the information so that people can easily find what they need?

Here are a few options I’m considering:

  • Create lots of individual pages with links. I can create pages for common information and other pages for workshop-specific information, tying them all together with links. I can create multiple pathways through the information by using links, and I can create navigation pages too. Colour-coding the links makes it easier for people to pick out which link they want to follow. When Lotus Connections adds support for includes, I can use that to create master pages that include all the relevant information. Advantages: Each page is simple and short. Editing is easy. Linking between pages is easy. Disadvantages: People have to view at least two pages in order to get the information they need for a single workshop. Browsing will require a lot of clicking.
  • Organize information by common steps, and put workshop-specific information in sections or tabs. The main organization would be the common steps in the process, which works best if there are lots of common steps. Each page would start with common tips, followed by hyperlinks to sections on the page with the workshop-specific information. Advantages: People see both the common tips and workshop-specific information on one page. They can browse through steps in chronological order. Disadvantages: Including all three workshops on a page makes the page longer. Navigating to the right section still requires more clicks.
  • Organize information by workshop, and provide links to common tips. There would be one page per workshop, with links to additional information and common resources. Advantages: It’s easy for people to see all the workshop-related information. Disadvantages: The pages will get really, really long. People don’t like scrolling.

Fortunately, I don’t have to do things correctly the first time around. I think I’ll experiment with creating lots of individual pages with links. It feels more wiki-like for me. It also makes it easier to grow the wiki as we add more material. If we find that this involves too much clicking, then we’ll have a good idea of which pages we need to combine.

Wiki information architecture thoughts

Even though a wiki is a free-form, unstructured, organic information repository, it needs to be organized so that users don’t get overwhelmed by information. So, how do you organize information on a wiki?

Wikipatterns is a great site for people and adoption patterns, but it doesn’t give tips on how to organize the information. So here are some tips to help you organize your wiki:

Visual identity

A banner, customized colour scheme, and a sidebar may seem unnecessary. When you’re creating lots of pages, it’s a pain to copy-and-paste the template. But a visual identity for your wiki helps people recognize when they’re looking at one of its pages and it gives them a consistent way to navigate to the major parts of your site. Tip: If your wiki allows you to include other wiki pages, put template segments on separate pages and then include them. This saves you from editing hundreds of pages whenever your navigation menu changes.


Write the homepage content for a general audience instead of for specialized roles. Provide information about your team and about the wiki. Save the detailed links for other navigation pages that are linked to from the homepage. Link to other resources people might find useful, too.

Multiple navigation pages

Create multiple ways to navigate through the same information space. For example, if project managers need to access certain kinds of information quickly, create a page for them with shortcuts to the resources they need.

Contact information

Always have a contact person for the wiki. Encourage people to edit the wiki themselves if they feel comfortable, but provide a way for them to contact someone else with changes or new resources if they’re not comfortable working with the wiki themselves.

Related resources and the big picture

Link to other resources your team or community uses (other websites, file repositories, Lotus Notes teamrooms, communities, etc.). Show the big picture: when do people use the wiki, and when do people use other resources? What’s stored where?


If you need to store information that doesn’t have a proper home yet, have a area on your wiki where you can store snippets that are still being worked on. That way, the rough drafts don’t confuse people browsing through the rest of the wiki. Use this space to store administrivia about the wiki as well, such as snippets for the sidebar.

Handling information requests

When people ask you for information that’s on the wiki, ask them where they looked for it and what they searched for. After you send them the resource, build the missing links so that people can find it easily.

Duplicate information

If you need to copy and paste information instead of including it, pick one place where the latest information will be, and provide links to that place when you paste the information into other pages. This will help you resolve conflicts in the future. If you can, provide backlinks to where the information has been copied, so that you know where you need to update it.


Document what you need to do in order to update the wiki, where things are, and how information is organized. This helps you teach other people how to use the wiki.

Automatic lists

Many wikis can automatically list the children of a page, pages in a given category, or pages with a given label. Use this feature to save you from manually updating lists of pages.

Pretty vs. editable

Pretty layouts tend to be difficult to edit without breaking. Simple layouts tend to be plain. Depending on your target audience, decide where your wiki will be. Do you expect lots of participation? Keep the page layout simple and avoid advanced macros. Do you work with a finicky group that will only use polished resources? Invest in styling, and accept that you might be the only one adding to the wiki.

Internal vs. external links

When linking to other pages in the wiki, try to use internal wiki links instead of copying and pasting the URLs. Most wikis indicate external links with icons. If you use internal wiki links, you avoid the visual clutter and show people that they can expect to have the same navigation when they click through.


There are more things to share, but this braindump is a good start! Have you come across something like this (preferably with more detail)? I’d love to learn from what other people are doing.