Even the casual observer would agree that my office is cluttered. Some would say that's putting it kindly. I've tried to create a daily routine for decluttering. When that failed, I tried to instill a weekly, then a monthly, routine. Failures all.

Mark Robert Halper

I no longer fight myself on what I used to perceive to be a character flaw and have come to accept my inability to keep the horizontal surfaces in my office clear. In fact, I have embraced it as a part of the way I work that will never change. And to those who crack wise about it, I direct attention to the following, which I have printed and posted prominently on my office wall: If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk the sign of?

By now you're probably wondering where I'm going with this. I got to thinking about it because January is the time of year when most people make New Year's resolutions. You can guess that one of mine used to be getting my office organized. The resolution never worked until I finally realized that there's a difference between being cluttered and being disorganized. I can find everything I need in my office in no more time than it would take me were everything neatly stored in lateral filing cabinets. I'm organized in a cluttered kind of way. Instead of trying and failing to learn to straighten up every day or week, I hoe my office out once each quarter. It feels great and, yes, it makes me wish I could learn to do it more often, but I know I can't. So I work with what I've got, and I've stopped trying to change myself into something I'm not.

The point — finally, we get there — is that remodelers making resolutions for their businesses at this time of year fall into the same trap. Their resolutions to reduce waste or improve efficiency or cut expenses are mostly aimed at reforming employee behavior. But employees don't change that much.

For example, you can probably turn a carpenter into a production manager by training him in his areas of weakness — say, making lists and double checking schedules. But if he's not predisposed to this kind of behavior in the first place, he'll be miserable and you'll never be satisfied with the results. If you have a carpenter and need a production manager, you really only have three choices: Find a way to live without; work around the parts of the production manager job that the carpenter can't do; or hire a “natural” production manager, someone whose habitual work patterns include list making and schedule checking.

Anything else results in a failing employee and another broken resolution.


Editorial Director