Episode 193 – The Enormous Benefits Of A Clean, Organized Environment

I’ve cleaned my share of chalkboards

Do teachers still say this?

“Neatness counts.”

They almost always said it when I was young. I knew why. Kids didn’t always write legibly.

I figured the teachers were looking to make their lives easier. Perfectly fine. It’s hard to grade a test when you can read what the student wrote.


My viewpoint was far more selfish.

If I was going to produce anything – including answers on an exam – then I wanted it to be readable. My penmanship was a reflection on me. Why speak if people don’t understand what you’re saying? Why write if people can’t read what you’ve written? Why make the writing get in the way of the message?

For me, it was about connection and being understood. It was probably my lifelong desire to be heard.

Why should we ever let things get in the way, or impede our progress? Verbal crutches hurt lots of speakers. In fact, here in Dallas our top sports talk radio station has a drive time team that did a bit about professional athletes using the phrase “you know” in their interviews. Some do it so much you can’t understand anything else they’re saying. It was a funny bit, but sad really.

We don’t want stuff getting in the way of our success.

There Is No Clarity Without Understanding

A little old man approaches me asking for directions. Well, I assume he was asking for directions. For all I know, he was asking me for money or a job. Or he could have been offering me something. How was I to know? He wasn’t speaking English. It’s the only language I know. Some would argue I’m barely fluent.

He tried hard to help me understand, but it just wasn’t going to happen. All I knew is that he was speaking something other than English. Perhaps Spanish, but it could have been Portuguese. I really didn’t know.

I felt badly that I couldn’t help him. His effort coupled with my effort didn’t make a hill of beans difference. He couldn’t understand me. I couldn’t understand him.

Epic fail.

All I could do is apologize and walk away.

That’s what happens when our lives lack clarity or congruency. We just can’t make sense of it. Sometimes none of it makes sense.

Maybe it’s a family situation. Or a job. Or our business.

We feel lost. Sooner than later – if we don’t find a way to get ahead of it – it morphs into hopelessness. We need to attack it before it gets that bad.

Do you know why things almost always look better in the morning, after you’ve had a decent night of sleep?

Because our brain gets a bit of a reboot. It’s kind of like defragging our internal hard drive.

The day before we may have felt confused, unclear and unsure. Groping for understanding. Trying hard to make sense of it. Like the little old man and me – working harder to understand only frustrates things when nothing happening makes any sense.

Tomorrow is a new day. We often find some clarity in the morning. I’m not saying our problems are all solved in the morning, but more often than not it’s sure a lot better. We’re usually able to assemble some sort of plan to move forward after we’ve slept.

Cleaning Things Up Helps Us Simplify, Which Helps Us Focus

For decades I led physical businesses – commonly called “brick and mortar” businesses. Very early in my career I discovered the positive power of one of my quirks. Neatness.

In a retail environment cleanness matters. Go research any study done on what shoppers of physical stores prefer and you’ll see cleanliness and neatness near the top of every single one. Fact is, we enjoy shopping in neat and clean stores. We judge the book by the cover. Well we should. If people don’t take care of their surroundings, then how much pride and competence can they have?

In the late 80’s the President of Scandinavian Airline Systems, Jan Carlzon wrote a book, Moments of Truth. It quickly became one of my all-time favorite business books. In it, Mr. Carlzon made a point that resonated with me because I was (and still am) a fanatic about customer experiences. From Carlzon I first began to focus on the “moments of truth” or the customer points of contact. He observed that the average flier on his airline encountered 5 SAS employees with each point of contact – or moment of truth – lasting a mere 15 seconds. In 1986 SAS had 10 million passengers. That resulted, according to Carlzon, in 50 million moments of truth. He argued – and I completely agree with him – that it was during those moments of truth where his airlines’ success would rise or fall.

Carlzon made the famous the observation of coffee stains on a flip-down tray reflecting poorly on engine maintenance. Are the two connected? Yes, in the customer’s mind they are. The notion is, if you can’t keep the flip-down trays clean, then how could you possibly be on top of the engine maintenance?

For years earlier I had been a drill sergeant about clean stores, clean stock rooms and clean restrooms. I was fanatical about it and I’m sure employees thought it was one of my major quirks. It was, but for good reason. Clean and organized was appreciated by customers. Clean and organized was also a point of pride for employees. I stood before employees and asked, “Have you ever noticed that if you clean your car, inside and out, and do a really good job of it – the car seems to drive better?” Every employee knew that feeling. I preached that the same thing happens in the workplace. And at home.

Yes, it’s focus, but it’s so much more than that. It’s belief. It’s confidence. It’s feeling good about things. It’s clarity.

Being Organized Helps Us Mentally, Physically and Emotionally

Cluttered desk, cluttered mind. I’ve heard it all my life and I’m not saying it’s 100% true, but my experience is that it’s mostly true. I’m not talking about moments of clutter. We’ve all be in the throes of a project or a deadline and things have turned chaotic around us. Forget those. Those aren’t moments of truth as much as they are moments of practical reality. But once the project or deadline is passed, do you continue with the clutter or do you regroup?

I’m urging you to regroup. Take the time to clean up and get organized. It’s impossible to not benefit from it.

Besides, we all need to look back at our work and feel good about it. A sense of accomplishment spurs us on to do more. To do better.

I’m not saying that a clean office, a clean work place or a clean home will insure success. I am saying that it can contribute to success though.

And I’m even willing to say that if your workplace or home is a wreck or a filthy mess, you won’t likely achieve very much. Personally, I’ve never seen it. I’ve never seen a house that was a wreck or a filthy mess be a successful home. Never. I’ve never seen a wrecked or filthy store make it. I’ve never seen a wrecked or filthy office be the residence of a successful business person. Maybe you have, but I haven’t.

I’ve seen environments that properly reflected the person occupying the space.

Is this a chicken and egg problem? Which came first, the cluttered space or the cluttered mind / person’s performance. I don’t know. And I don’t care. Because what I do know is I’ve seen people change their environment and change their mind, resulting in a change in their behavior. I’ve not succeeded in trying to persuade somebody to change their mind first. But I’ve often succeeded in giving people the chore to clean up, get organized and seen a transformation take place in their mind during the process. Especially at the end of the process when they can look back and beam with pride at what they’d done.

I’ve seen executives do it. I’ve seen warehouse workers do it. I’ve seen salespeople do it. I’ve seen housewives do it. It transcends education, social backgrounds, financial conditions, race, sex, religion and any other variable you care to mention.

It just works! 


Scroll to Top