Sock Snaps

Coaching Articles - Essays for coaches

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In this Coaching Matters, Jan explores the challenges of managing our management systems and finally admits that "less" can be "more." Read to consider the ways you can simplify your work and increase your productivity.

Sock Snaps

by Jan Miller Burkins

The Dryer Monster by Melissa Bryant

I have four sons, all of whom have several varieties of white socks. Laundry day is an avalanche of similar socks, a cascade of almost-matches. I had no idea that so many different types of white sport socks existed. I once counted more than sixty different varieties, in a moment of frustration when counting styles of socks seemed more productive that trying to match them. Such compare/contrast exercises of scrutinizing the width of the ribbing, the toe stitching, or the brand have become Saturday's gauntlet.

A few years ago I began what has proved to be a mission that had, until very recently, remained unaccomplished. I set my mind to developing a strategy for managing the socks in our household.

First, I bought tiny, plastic snaps from the fabric store, along with some fabric glue, and glued the snaps to the top edge of the socks. The plan was this: the boys would snap their socks together when they took them off. Then they would stay together throughout the washing and drying events and emerge from the laundry already mated. It didn't work. The children, of course, didn't snap their socks together. The snaps came off of the socks and, when they didn't come off, the snaps proved a scratchy nuisance to the wearer.

Plan B involved having everyone tie their socks together before they put them into the wash. This was a modest improvement over sock snaps, but once again my dependency on young boys to keep the system working was a fatal flaw.

A friend, to whom I had confided my sock problems, had the genius idea of using lingerie bags. Each boy would have his own lingerie bag, into which he would place his socks. This seemed a great solution, despite the fact that I needed about ten lingerie bags of decent quality to harness the bulkiness of our socks. After the initial investment in lingerie bags, we embarked on the new system, which derailed when we failed to solve problems with where the sock bags would live in their rooms and how to manage additional socks coming off feet when the sock bags were still in the spin cycle.

This sock struggle being only one of the management issues I am perpetually working through in my personal and my professional life, I spent $50 dollars and hired a professional organizer to advise me. She said to hire a professional assistant because I was trying to manage too much. I was relieved for her professional validation of my struggle, as I couldn't have summed it up better myself.

So I hired Katherine, a recent college graduate with skills in sock matching, Photoshop, and technical writing. One day as we were folding laundry she asked, "Why do you match everyone's socks?" I thought for a moment. And then the non-solution hit me. Matching socks was really a non-problem, because it was work that did not have to be done, at least not by me. So I set up baskets for each boy. I sort the socks by child and then I began requiring them to match them.

I spent two years, on and off, trying to make the task of matching socks manageable, only to realize that I was solving a problem that didn't really exist. My array of strategies was merely energy spent toward making a complicated, and finally unnecessary task, even more complicated.

As coaches in schools, we tend to do this. We create forms and procedures in an effort to manage the information, the resources, and the schedules that clutter our school lives. Before you create another form to solve another non-problem, ask yourself, "Is this really a problem?" or "How does solving this problem really help us?" You may find you save yourself much time and headache if you adhere to a "less is more" philosophy and expend your energy puzzling through to the necessary core of some dimension of your work, rather than creating more work with even less productivity. Now, as I find myself creating systems to manage my work, I as myself, "Am I putting snaps on the socks again?" and this metaphorical reminder helps me reign in my type-A tendency to over-think and over-organize.