Cleaning House After a Failure

We all have those days: you irritated the customer; you missed a typo in the title of a document; or a project we really liked was suddenly cancelled. If the error or problem was serious enough, you might find yourself in a few meetings to sort out why something happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. What else can you do? The American term for it is “cleaning house,” but this phrase can be literally or figuratively. Confused? Read on!

The Down Side(s) 

At the executive level, “cleaning house” can involve some scary activities, such as firing people who have performed poorly, downsizing or closing divisions, or reorganizing departments to improve operations or prevent future problems.

At the technical writer’s level you might find yourself reorganizing folders and filing systems (“What do you mean we uploaded the wrong draft?”). You might end up in meetings where editorial or approval processes are reviewed. Or you might end up in one of a series of one-on-one meetings where your leader has to give you that bad news that your position has been eliminated.

The Up Side(s)

On the lighter side of things, you might just have a particularly messy workspace and be ordered by your supervisor to literally clean up your desk so other people can find things when you’re not there (not clean out–that implies you’re being fired).

Personally, I’ve enjoyed organizing my work space–in an office or at home. It’s a great opportunity to clear out the “junk.” I might find documents or other pieces of paper that are three weeks old and no longer useful because they’re OBE (Overcome By Events). I might find a particularly interesting reference document that I thought I’d lost. Or I might locate a story or article idea I thought I’d lost.

I also noticed this aspect of “cleaning house.” As I’m putting the physical space around me into some sort of neat/constructive order, my brain is putting itself in order about other matters in the background, sorting through whatever error caused me to clean up in the first place. The physical task gives me the time and opportunity to do something constructive while my mind works over a problem.

And before you ask, NO, I will not come over and help you clean your desk…or your house. 🙂

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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