4 February 2013

On Putting Like With Like – The Sorting Strategy

Many of you either have country experience, or your schools are rural, so you’ll probably be able to visualise the following scene with all its attendant smells and noise. Have you ever been on a farm at drafting time? It’s a vital part of farm life.

With dogs barking and dust rising, a flock of sheep or a herd of cattle will be driven into the stockyards for sorting. The farmer only brings them in when they need sorting into different categories, ready for the next activity. It might be to separate the cows or ewes about to give birth from the ones with later ‘drop’ dates, so the imminent mothers can be put on the best grass. It could be to pick out the sick animals that need a drench. Or it may be to sort out prime animals for sale. Almost never can this type of work be done in a big paddock – animals aren’t that obliging, no matter how skilled the farmers or their dogs!

When you bring in the mob all you see is a milling jumble of assorted animals. Then, with an operator on the little drafting gate at the far end, the animals are moved through a narrow race. The person on the gate has what seems a simple job, but is in fact challenging and tricky. They have to swing the handle of the gate two or three ways (depending on the degree of sorting), to separate the animals and funnel them into the pen where other animals of the same category have already been shunted.

The most fascinating thing for me is always the result at the end. Yes it’s noisy, yes it’s busy, and yes it’s hard work. But at the finish you look at a pen of top quality animals, and suddenly you can really see what you’ve achieved. Only an hour or so previously all you had was an amorphous mass of animals. Every now and then your eye would light on a prime animal, but it was very hard to get a clear perspective of exactly what you had in the flock or herd. Few of them really stood out as anything special.

Once the drafting (or sorting) is finished you look at the three pens. In the first you have a pen of beautiful animals, ready to do you proud in the sale yard (if that’s the purpose). You look at the next pen. They too are all of a piece. You can see without any effort exactly how far advanced they are in condition and what they need in the way of attention. And the pen of runts, or late lambers, or whatever you’ve been selecting for? Again, they’re all together. The attention they need is clear and the size of the task never seems as overwhelming or confusing as when you looked at them mixed up with all the others.

And so with any work. Always put like with like. Once you’ve sorted you can see just how much work you really have to do. The job instantly becomes much more manageable, you feel better because you’ve got a better perspective on exactly what’s required, and stress levels diminish.

Have you got a pile of debris anywhere in your office or house? If it’s a big mess don’t try and change it all in one hit. It may be the top of your desk, it may a table, it may be a bookcase, a cupboard, or your garage. Chunk up first – decide on your categories. Then chunk laterally, sorting as the farmers sort their animals. Pretend you’re playing cards! Deal into different piles – of types of information, or actions required. I write the categories on scrap paper and lay each item on the floor in their named heaps. Then, as you sort you don’t have to stop and think ‘where do I put this?’ The decision is done once and your sorting flows smoothly.

The final downward chunk is when you put things in order of action, or date order (or whatever category is relevant). Suppose you have a pile of reading. Quickly flick through, putting the most useful reading on the top. When you sit down to read time is saved – the thinking has already been done.

Is it the desk? You’ve sorted into categories and now you put away. Because like is with like the junk sticks out like a sore thumb, so out it goes. If there’s any double-up of equipment you can see it instantly. It’s easy to decide whether to keep, or who to pass it on to.

Have you got a ‘Must be done’ pile in your face? Instead of making a long list, with every item on the list, quickly put them in physical priority order, with the most important on top. Anything else in the heap that mustn’t be forgotten (because it has a ‘due by’ date), record in your diary on the day you must start. Then everything else can be ‘sent back to the paddock’, or in office speak, put out of sight. I encourage you to have it in your suspension drawer in your desk, but if you’re afraid you’ll forget, at the very least put it behind you, out of sight. Large piles of paper all over your desk create incredible mind congestion. Do yourself a favour – work on one thing at a time, at a clean desk. You’ll love the feeling of freedom and effectiveness.


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