Where Stress and Disorganization Collide

As a professional speaker, I travel constantly.  That means that I go through airport security all the time and, as a consequence, am witness to myriad methods of successfully and not-so-successfully navigating the process.  This microcosm of activity is a terrific example of how being disorganized generates tremendous and unnecessary stress.

The Cattle Call

We travelers converge on airports from points distant.  The majority of us are either returning home or leaving home but before we can truly begin that journey, we all must pass through the daunting airport security checkpoints.  For those of you who haven’t traveled by air in the last … say … thirty years, here’s a brief run down:

  1. We line up single-file (kinda) in a zig-zagging line similar to attending an opening of a new museum exhibit, only with luggage.
  2. In addition to keeping ourselves and our carry-ons moving forward, we just extract our photo IDs and make our boarding passes available.
  3. Once the TSA agent has verified (in cursory fashion) that our picture IDs and boarding passes have the same name on them and we somewhat resemble the picture proffered, we queue up for the screening process.  It is here that the fun truly begins.
  4. We must now extract from our luggage and place into a plastic bin the following:  properly packed toiletries (read: clear Ziploc bag), shoes, coins, cell phones, most jewelry, belts, and laptop computers (which  must be placed into a separate bin). 
  5.  The remainder of our luggage must also be placed on the conveyor belt.
  6. With our pants sagging and our unshod feet cooling, we must marshal our plastic bins and our carry-ons up to the x-ray machine before passing through the adjacent scanner ourselves.
  7. Having successfully made it through the scanner (don’t ask what happens if you fail here), we must now collect and re-insert all bin items into our luggage while getting on our belts, shoes, coats, etc.  Oh, and we have about two square feet in which to accomplish this final task.

Finally, we are free to make our way to our gate to board the plane that will take us far, far away from the memory of this most recent security checkpoint experience.

A Little Forethought Goes a Long Way

Because I go through airport security dozens of times each year, I’ve developed a little process I follow to make the experience less stressful and more efficient.  I’ll get to that in a second.  First, I want to comment on my observations of people who haven’t considered the value of organizing their belongings before hitting the TSA line.

  • Travel is stressful enough, so why would anyone want to make it even more stressful?  That’s the question that goes through my head each time I watch someone who verbally objects to taking off their shoes AT THE SCREENING BOOTH.  Seriously?   This hasn’t been a new requirement for 10 years now!
  • I’m also fascinated with the lack of understanding to the clear direction that all metal must be off your person – jewelry, keys, coins, everything.  Why is it that the person who gets busted with three pennies in his pocket always looks back at me for sympathy?  I took the coins out of MY pocket.
  • There also seems to be a gap in understanding the 3 oz. bottle rule.  I don’t think it’s a good rule, but I’m quite aware that a Costco-sized Suave shampoo is larger than 3 0z.  Again, not a new rule people.

You get my point … I hope.

Organized Travel is Happy Travel

By now you’re undoubtedly thinking that I’d better have some brilliant insights to share with you to regain your favorable opinion of me.  Sorry, I don’t. The organization I’ve done to prepare for my frequent trips through TSA security screening areas is really very simple.  It’s an ever-developing process that adjusts to the constantly changing TSA rules. However, the objective is always the same – get through the screening process with little to no hassle or delay.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Before getting into the cattle line I stop and get both my boarding pass and photo ID out.
  2. After getting these back from the TSA agent who has confirmed my ID and my right to be screened, I stop and put my ID back into my wallet and place the boarding pass in my laptop case’s exterior pocket.
  3. At the stack of plastic bins, I open my laptop case and the exterior pocket of my carry-on which contains my Ziploc of right-sized liquid toiletries.
  4. Once I have placed “my” bins on the conveyor belt I pull out my laptop, placing it into one of the bins, then I pull out my toiletries Ziploc and place it into the second bin.
  5. Next I remove my belt and my SLIP-ON shoes, placing each in the same bin as my Ziploc.  (If I’m wearing any type of coat, it goes on top of this bin.)
  6. I double check all pant pockets for ANY kind of item (including my wallet), which are placed in my laptop case if discovered.
  7. I marshal my little caravan to the gaping mouth of the scanner, ensuring that everything is on its merry way before stepping through the scanner.
  8. At the other end of the process, I first grab my carry-on, set it on the floor and open the outside zipper, into which I immediately place my toiletries Ziploc.  Next, I grab my laptop case and affix it to my carry-on, open its top compartment and return my laptop to its rightful home.  I throw my shoes on the floor and SLIP into them before grabbing my belt and making my way out of the narrow exit chute before putting it back around my waist.

Seamless is Stressless

This may seem like a lot of steps to complete each time I go through security, but they are executed like a well-oiled machine.  The net result is that I never stress out during the process, move through it without delay, and get out to the gate well ahead of those who are still wondering (and complaining about) why we have to remove our shoes.

On a larger scale, there are numerous daily routines we each have that could benefit from a little organization.  Do any of these appeal?

  • Where are my keys?  Identifying a single place for things that leave the house with you each day – wallets, purses, cell phones, sunglasses.  This place should have an outlet nearby for recharging things requiring this effort.  Just think how much time you’d save and stress you’d reduce if you NEVER had to search for any of these things again because you KNEW exactly where they were?
  • I hope they have shampoo at the hotel.  Maintaining a committed toiletries kit for your air-based excursions, inclusive of everything both in and out of the Ziploc.  The small investment you’ll make in establishing and maintaining a toiletries kit that can be just tossed into your luggage will reduce those last minute trips to the drug store to purchase the always-needed travel size bottles of lotions and potions you use every day.  (As for the monumental investment this represents, remember that most all those items get used up and require purchasing anyway!)
  • Damn, forgot the milk again!  Have you ever remembered you needed milk on the way HOME from the grocery store?  It’s relying on that “steel trap memory” that’ll getcha every time!  Place a notepad and writing instrument near the refrigerator or the pantry or both.  The ability to jot down the note right when you discover the need reduces the stress (and time waste) of having to return to the store on the second, or third, trip.
  • It’s 415-267 something, something, something, something. Maintaining one (electronic) contact list that syncs across all your devices is a great time and stress saver.  I know many people who have a contact list on their mobile phone, one on their laptop (in Outlook or Mail) and even, still, one written down in a physical address book.  Placing this information in one place and making sure they sync among all your devices ensures you’ll always have the right information whenever you need it.  Whether you use Microsoft Exchange, Apple’s MobileMe, Google Apps, or any of the online services, you can rest assured that all this information is available at the tip of your fingers.

“A Cluttered Desk is a Sign …”

As far as I’m concerned it’s the sign of a cluttered desk.  This oft-quoted expression is an attempt by those who don’t want to spend the energy being organized.  That’s fine, but the question you really have to answer is whether you’re willing to pay the consequences of being disorganized – increased stress and wasted time.

5 thoughts on “Where Stress and Disorganization Collide

  • Good tips, Paul! The same principle applies even in less stressful situations like the grocery line. I can’t believe the people who stand in line for 10 minutes or longer, but wait until their order has been rung through to start looking for their bank card. But I think that’s more stressful for the person behind them in line. 🙂

  • Your story about getting through airport security smoothly was a great example of how being prepared ahead of time makes things faster and easier.

    A couple more items to add to the list is to make your lunch the night before instead of trying to figure it out when you are still half asleep in the morning.

    Planning your next day, the night before.

  • Janet: Oblivion must be a terrific place! Wish I could live there with those folks….

    Natalie: Regulary reviewing all you’ve got to do is a worthy practice several times a day – even first thing In the morning BEFORE checking the e-mail inbox!

  • Great post. Here is my foolproof method for packing:

    STEP 1: List everything you are going to do on the trip, even mundane activities – for example

    Flying on plane to get there;
    Going to the bathroom;
    Getting dressed in the morning;
    Reading and responding to email;
    Sitting/lying on the beach;
    Sitting around and relaxing;
    Playing board games;
    Watching movies;
    Taking pictures

    STEP 2: List all of your body parts:

    Lower body and legs
    Upper body and arms
    Eyes and Head

    STEP 3: Next to each item on your body part list, write down the things that you will wear on or attach to that body part – for example:

    Eyes and head: warm hat, sun hat, sunglasses, contacts
    Feet: sandals, socks, running shoes

    STEP 4: Next to each item on your activity list, write down the things that you need for that activity if they aren’t already included on your body part list – for example

    Taking pictures: camera, charger, USB cord to connect to computer
    Sitting/lying on the beach: towel, sunscreen, binoculars for ogling the babes

    This method will reduce the time needed to pack and will ensure that you don’t forget anything.

    Happy Trails!

    Christopher S. Tuttle, Esq.
    Alleman Hall McCoy Russell & Tuttle
    Intellectual Property Law
    tuttle@ahmrt.com 503.459.4141

  • Chris: Thanks for the addition. Travel is a stressful event for everyone. As a frequent traveler, I see the havoc is can wreck on people and families. Anything we can do in advance to smooth out the experience is time well spent!

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