In Place vs In Use

Last week I sent out an open invitation to people who wanted to join me in conversation to help me write my book, and I had the opportunity to speak to the lovely Eveliina Lindell at Go Lightly.

One of the things we spoke about that really struck me was the difference between when something is ‘in place’ vs ‘in use’.

Speaking as a professional organiser, Eveliina said that everything has a dynamic order. Things don’t stay in one place all the time, but everything needs a place to be ‘in use’ and to be ‘in place’ when it is not in use.

For example, when my kids are playing, the toys are ‘in use’ and belong on the floor. It can look like a mess but the toys are exactly where they’re supposed to be. When they’ve finished playing, that’s when the toys need to be tidied away, and go back ‘in place’.

Problem 1: Leaving things ‘in use’

Clutter happens we when leave things ‘in use’, instead of putting them back ‘in place’. The letters we read but don’t action. The paperwork we leave on the worktop because we still need to do something with it. Tasks and projects we have on the go that we haven’t mentally put down. Things we don’t need any more but haven’t let go of. Things we do need but haven’t quite decided where they go.

That’s when we end up tripping over toys, things get broken and my kids look at a sea of toys and declare they don’t have anything to play with. Eventually they abandon the whole mess and find another space to invade/play in.

I see the same thing happen with emails. Inboxes that start as a place for incoming items, then gradually get cluttered up with emails that need actioning, are in the middle of being actioned or waiting for others to action, emails that might be needed later, as well as the already-actioned-but-not-quite-got-round-to-filing-away… and by the time they arrive at a Getting Your Inbox to Zero workshop, those inboxes have become dumping grounds.

Problem 2: Nowhere to go ‘in place’

The problem also comes when we don’t have anywhere to put things ‘in place’. Where there isn’t a home for the toys to live (or it’s too high for the kids to reach and it’s all down to us adults to put them away) – the chances are they’ll stay ‘in use’.

Where our email folder structure is so complicated we’re not sure where to file anything let alone where to find it again later, we tell ourselves it’s quicker and safer to leave it where we can ‘find’ it.

Or where we don’t have a trusted system to park those ideas and ongoing projects – a safe place where we know we can come back to them when we need them – we store them in our heads, and struggle to switch off whilst worrying about forgetting.

Problem 3: Too many things ‘in use’

When we have too many things ‘in use’ we don’t use any of them properly. Everything gets in the way and nothing gets enough focus. We just end up paper shuffling, wading through the mess and yelping when we stand on lego. Moving things around rather than using them. Being surrounded by toys rather than playing with them. Being surrounded by work rather than actually working.

What about you?

Do you take the time to put things ‘in place’ once you’ve finished with them, or do you have a habit of keeping them open and leaving them ‘in use’ fighting for your attention?

How many things have you got ‘in use’ in your workspace at the moment? On your desk, on your screen, in your browser, or in your head?

What are your ‘floaters’? That thing you keep picking up – because you never put it away, or the thing you can’t find because it doesn’t have a place to live.

What are your ‘squatters’ – the things that keep invading your headspace or physical space?

What does ‘in place’ even look like? Is it clear and easy to reach? Do you need to give some thought to how you organise your headspace and physical space? Or do you just need to get into the habit of putting things back ‘in place’?

I’d love to know how this post resonates with you. Let me know what you think, what you do – and what you decide to do next in the comments below.

And if you want a clear, simple and super effective way to organise your emails and kick your inbox back into shape, ask me about Getting Your Inbox to Zero workshops or join the next The Inbox Zero One-Day Challenge

  • I love the way you’ve taken the idea of dynamic order and applied it to productivity. Thanks for the chat!

  • Andaleeb Lilley

    Great post and can so relate to this!

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