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How To Organize Your Tools: Tidying Tips Even Einstein Could Use

Posted on Oct 13, 2017
Organize Your Tools

Disorganization in the workplace is an expensive endeavor. Learn how much disorganization is truly costing your business and the easy ways to combat your messy shop. Kick your bad habit and learn how to organize your tools with these handy tips.

It’s tricky to nail down exactly how much disorganization is costing your business, but according to the Blog It’s Simply Placed, “One study, conducted by P-Touch in 2010, which gathered data from nearly 800 US employees, found that searching for lost or misplaced materials accounts for nearly 38 hours, approximately one work week annually, per employee. Survey respondents reported that wasting time searching for misplaced materials has a significant impact on professional perception, productivity and morale. Worse yet, over 80% agreed that a co-worker who is disorganized ‘hurts the productivity of the whole office.’ This study found that the costs associated for U.S. full time employees looking for misplaced items in their offices exceeded $89 billion annually.”

Billion. That’s 9 more zeros than the average person’s bank account. Ok, maybe we are being a bit dramatic, but we are talking about serious dough being wasted due to disorganization and an inability to locate materials quickly. In manufacturing especially, the inability to quickly pinpoint the tools needed for the job can be a financially draining habit.

A poll taken by 5S Supply Blog found that “more than 15 minutes is wasted per day (per employee) searching for tools. In a 5 man shop that is equivalent to losing $7,500 of productive time a year.”

And another study, “How Much Time Wasted Looking for Stuff Costs Your Construction Company” (we are loving this title by the way) elucidates that “time spent ‘looking for stuff’ is lost time that can never be recaptured.” Mr. Humphry ever so kindly breaks it down for us:

  • 50 Employees individually spend 1.5 hours each day “looking for stuff”= 75 labor hours per day (Side Note #1: You can’t put “looking for stuff” on your resume. No employer is going to applaud you for this skill. So quit doing it so much at work!)
  • 75 labor hours per day x 5 days per week= 375 labor hours per week “looking for stuff”
  • 375 labor hours per week x 4 weeks per month= 1,500 labor hours per month “looking for stuff”
  • 1,500 labor hours per month x 12 months per year= 18,000 labor hours per year “looking for stuff”
  • 18,000 labor hours per year “looking for stuff” x $45 hourly rate (fully burdened, healthcare, insurance all the good stuff)= $810,000. (Side Note #2: We have changed our minds. If you want to shell out $810,000 a year we will gladly look for ANY of your stuff. We will put it on our resume and be so good at looking for stuff you will have to tell us to stop looking for stuff so well.)

What’s our point? Well, regardless of the exact figure disorganization costing your business, the fact of the matter is that it IS costing you money. It IS hurting your bottom line. You ARE losing money from disorganization.

Now before you wax poetic about the benefits of having a messy desk or work cell- “but I’m an artist!” -and before you throw out the whole “I’m a creative type!” excuse, hear us out.

Let’s take a look at Exhibit A: This is Einstein’s Desk the day he died. Einstein is famous for saying: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then, is an empty desk a sign?”- Albert Einstein. I think Einstein is trying to tell us something.

Exhibit A


Photo Credit: Ralph Morse, LIFE Photographer

Next let’s look at Exhibit B: this is Steve Jobs' desk, while he was still quite alive.

Exhibit B


Now ask yourself this, “Am I Einstein? Am I Steve Jobs?” Ponder it long and hard people. Unless you are the venerable Albert Einstein or Mr. Steve Jobs, it’s time to clean it up! Those two brainiacs are what statisticians like to call “outliers.” Unless you are solving quantum physics theorems in your free time or inventing the next generation of smart phones, we say enough with the creativity excuse! Or we are going to creatively smack you upside the head.  



In a Lean Manufacturing environment, in which processes and procedures are carefully outlined and products are constructed in a Just-In-Time (JIT) fashion, there should be exactly 0% of creativity involved.

Machinery parts shouldn’t be put together creatively. Nobody wants to buy a car that was creatively assembled. Can you imagine a marketing campaign for an airplane: “Manufactured Creatively.” Doesn't instill a whole lot of trust, now does it? You don’t want a bunch of artists imaginatively throwing together nuts and bolts on your Boeing 757 jet engine. It’s the same reason you wouldn’t trust an accounting firm that inventively throws your tax returns together. (Side note: The IRS LOVES these kinds of accounting firms, they're great for business).

On the manufacturing floor, creativity is a no-no. Customers want machines that are put together with precision, with quality, with process, and with accuracy. People want to trust that the machines they operate, the cars they drive, and the airplanes they fly on, are safe and built to last; not just thrown together any which way on an assembly line.

In this type of procedure oriented business, it seriously matters that the manufacturing environment is clean and organized and that tools are readily available. Especially if looking for tools is costing your organization $89 billion dollars a year. (See: P-Touch study). For future reference- keep the creativity and artsy stuff in your manufacturing business limited to the engineering drawing board.



Tips for Organizing Your Tools

The truth is that you can’t charge customers for your own disorganization. It’s not something they are willing to pay for, and you will lose customers over it. Here are some ways to stay organized on the shop floor that will help your bottom line:

GIVE IT A HOME: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”- Tim Leatherman, Leatherman Tools.  

The first rule of tidying up is give everything a home. Every tool should have a designated landing space- because after all, clutter is just a failure to return things to their proper place. If a tool isn’t important enough to designate to a specific location, it is most likely not worth keeping around, so chuck it!

KEEP IT CLOSE: For those tools that you do decide to keep, well, keep them close. Do a use frequency of use test and find out how often you are actually using them. If you don’t use it often enough, either it’s located in the wrong place or you should lose it altogether. The tools you use most frequently should be kept in the closest proximity to you.

BUY TWO: Sometimes it is cheaper to buy two of a single tool than to have to look for it every time Bob borrows it and forgets to put it back. Think of the productivity gains for both you and Bob. Also, tell Bob to knock it off. If the tool is heavy and takes time to move from location to location it makes even more sense to have 2. (Side note: EVERY shop has a Bob. Don’t be Bob!)

BUY INDIVIDUALS: Rather than buying sets of tools at a discount, buy the exact tool you need. This saves you from 1) wasting time sorting through a bunch of tools to find the one you need and 2) from wasting money on tools you never use.

SIMPLIFY THE PROCESS: It doesn’t matter if you’re building barges or making bagels, break down the manufacturing process into simple steps. Break down the construction process into 8 different operations, for example. From a quality control perspective and tact time perspective, it is much easier to keep track of your end product if you know the exact processes happening during each step. Break down your 8 processes into sub-assemblies and supply each kanban or work station with the EXACT tools needed for the job. In short, organize your tools around the steps you take to manufacture your product.

VISUAL MANAGEMENT: Shadow boards are a great way to keep track of your tools. You can even go a step further and organize the tools on your shadow board from left to right, in the same order you that you need to reach for them during your building process. Another great visual aid = electronic boards. They can relay visual images of how to build a specific item, they also relay Key Performance Indicators, and help track problems in the process.

INVEST IN TOOL TRACKING TECH: There’s a reason companies have invested in tool location technology, because of guys like Bob. Every company has a few Bobs, mind reading geniuses who have the supernatural ability to steal the exact tool you were just about to use and vanish into thin air.  DeWalt offers nifty Tool Connect Tags that can attach to virtually any piece of equipment, hand tool, storage, or jobsite asset. Heck, you could even put one on Bob and find out where he’s been stashing all of your tools this whole time. DeWalt offers a free mobile app called Tool Connect™ which easily pairs with tools using a blue LED identification light. Click here for more information.


For more info about how to optimize your shop and reduce costs, visit our Looking for Stuff Prevention Hotline:

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