A woman entering a meeting holding an attractive box caught my attention – what was in this pale yellow and orange 20in. x 12in x 4in. treasure chest? As she sat down at the table she opened the box and removed a file, a notebook, a newspaper clipping, a photograph and a text that she was going to reference. I was curious and couldn’t resist asking her about the box- for after all- this is a planning session. Her response was even more intriguing than the box itself. “It’s Twyla Tharp. She says that ‘before you can think outside of the box, you have to start with a box’.”

I made a note in the margin that simply said “Twyla.” I liked the idea that she had hinted at even if I had very little to go on at this point. Why was this so interesting to me? The thing that I have to confess to is a shameful lack of organization. My office has piles – miles of piles. Usually if people don’t mess with my piles I can find things with some kind of uncanny radar, but when I encounter the organizational mastery of some people with a preference for Judging – I experience “Judging” envy. Colour coded files in straight rows ….ooooohhhh….I love the idea but the execution is so painful for me.

Boxes might be a solution that I could live with… beautiful boxes to capture various projects through all stages from conception to completion. I needed to find out more. In her book, “The Creative Habit” Twyla Tharp explains her approach.

Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files.

I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.
The box documents active research on every project….

There are separate boxes for everything I’ve ever done. If you want a glimpse into how I think and work, you could do worse than to start with my boxes.

The box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet.

It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work.

The box makes me feel connected to a project. It is my soil. I feel this even when I’ve back-burnered a project: I may have put the box away on a shelf, but I know it’s there. The project name on the box in bold black lettering is a constant reminder that I had an idea once and may come back to it very soon.

Most important, though, the box means I never have to worry about forgetting. One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn’t write it down and put it in a safe place. I don’t worry about that because I know where to find it. It’s all in the box….”

After reading this I realized that this was something that made sense to my way of working. Keeping items of various sizes and shapes together all in one place would foster inspiration and creativity. The added bonus of the ease of one step sorting and the use of visual cues would work for my preference for Perceiving in a way that “label maker” labels on alphabetized files never would. It isn’t simply that I am lazy or lack discipline – I don’t have the DNA.

I wonder if most people who are professional organizers have a preference for Judging. I have made several attempts to have people who do this for a living come in to master the piles in my office. The office supply store loves these attempts as I buy lots of supplies for managing paper, folders, books etc. Eventually I fall off the wagon if the set up isn’t visual, immediate and uber simple.

When working in a home office we need to find systems that we will actually use. Organization doesn’t need to be done just one way – find one that works for you. It makes sense that an artist like Twyla Tharp might have a suggestion that works for my ENFP preferences – thank you Twyla

Category: Working from home
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7 Responses to “Twyla Tharp inspires “inside the box” organizing”

Jill, The Veggie Queen January 25, 2009

First I read your post and then your MBTI type. I laughed as I read what you wrote — I’ll match my piles to yours any day. And I. too, possess that radar unless I have to do a Herculean cleaning session and then I can’t find anything.

When I saw your type, I realized that you are the same as I am, except that I am an INFP. My husband doesn’t get me but I am happy just as I am. Now, the box idea is interesting. I’d love to hear more about your progress with it — before I invest in boxes.

Thanks for this informative post.

Sandy McMullen January 25, 2009

Jill – I received another response by email from a fellow “pilot” (as in one who piles). She also related. Thanks for sharing – I have been married since before dirt and have stopped worrying about whether my husband “gets” me. The fact that he walks in the door every night speaks volumes. There is a line in a book called “Wifey” – the heroine is struggling with identity issues and she asks her husband if he loves her. his reply paraphrased “I told you that when I asked you to marry me why are you asking again?”

As for the box – I am “artist in residence” at Context Management Consulting Inc. the box is a perfect way to keep certain projects in one place and to stimulate the flow of ideas. I will try to remember to post my wonderful travelling “box” and send it to you.

Hey Sandy, I’d like to see the box I am in! :-)

Sandy McMullen January 26, 2009

Here’s another Twyla inspired idea – this is one that I can take to meetings plus it can sit on my desk- a traveller with style and ease http://www.twitpic.com/17cgo

Sandy McMullen January 26, 2009

Boris -you help folks get into and out of boxes all the time.

On another note – would you like to share your office on video to show the world an INTP in action?

How should an INTP’s office look like?

Sandy McMullen January 26, 2009

Check out this blog to see a possibility of an (E or I) NTP – Please note I don’t know his type I simply love the article http://www.stephenfry.com/blog/2008/12/11/gee-one-bold-storm-coming-up%e2%80%a6/