Looking in the Underwear Drawer

Over the years, I’ve had lots of trials and tribulations working in Records and Information Management (RIM). Curiously, many of them occur when I’m helping someone, or a group of someones, organize their information better. By better, I mean in a way that makes it easy to find things. Or knowing what to save and what to toss.

The process usually starts the same. I ask questions to assess the current problems and desired end state. This part often goes smoothly. Then I ask to look at the current system. This is where things take a turn. People often get very defensive, and almost protective, of their information. Even when they’ve just told me their system doesn’t work. And especially when they’re discussing their work information, which doesn’t have anything personal in it. Or at least it shouldn’t.

I assure people I’m focusing mainly on context rather than content. I explain I’m assessing the process. Honestly, there’s usually so much volume that I don’t have time to read and poke through things, even if I wanted to. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that people treat me like I’m rifling through their underwear drawer. That’s actually the last thing I would ever volunteer, paid or otherwise, to organize for someone else. Even professional nerds like myself have our limits.

What’s so personal about underwear anyway?

This feeling of invading someone’s privacy while trying to fix their information management systems has occurred so often, that it really made me think about it. What is it that feels so personal about an email inbox, document names, and how we describe and nest our file folders?

In some ways, it is personal in the sense that everybody has their own unique way of organizing, naming, and saving their stuff. But at the same time, almost all of my experience is in a business setting. I generally deal with business information that doesn’t contain any personal information. So why do people get so territorial and protective about their stuff, even when it technically belongs to the organization?

My impression is that people know their system of organizing better than anybody else’s. Even when that system is faulty, it’s comfortable and familiar. So when I enter the picture, even with a faster, more intuitive way to organize and find information, it’s different. And that can be a hard sell.

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