Everything in Its Place

Owner-operator Benson Runyan installed cabinets in his 379 Pete for secure, long-term storage, but he uses a seat organizer to keep frequently used items secure, in order and within reach.

Drivers who take their eyes off the road to look for a fresh CD, toll money, sunglasses or directions endanger themselves, their freight and everyone around them. Drivers who cannot find what they need when they need it get stressed out, and those who pull over to look for things lose time.

“I like to know where everything’s at,” says Bill Marcola of Byron, Ga., company driver for Koch Trucking in Minneapolis. Marcola, who has more than 23 years of experience, says he and co-driver Gene Williams of Bon Aire, Ga., keep the inside of their new Volvo very organized. “I’ve always kept my truck that way,” Marcola says. “If it’s not, I get frustrated as heck, and it’s not safe if you don’t know where something’s at and you’re looking around for it.”

Cab organization is a safety, money and stress issue, says organizing consultant Barbara Bergeron of SOS Organizational Services in Chester Springs, Penn. “If you have to pull over to look for something, you’re losing your time and focus,” she says. “If you switch your focus from what’s happening on the road to getting another CD, you’re compromising safety and hurting your productivity.”

The best time for drivers to start organizing the cabs where they work and live is before they start on a trip, says Bergeron, a professional organizer for nine years and on the board of directors of the National Association of Professional Organizers in Glenview, Ill. “As a rule of thumb, we estimate that every five minutes of planning is going to save about an hour of execution,” she says. Bergeron recommends that drivers start organizing by deciding ahead of time what they’ll need and when they’ll need it.

The next step is to place the items in reach.

“The key is to get a system that you trust,” Bergeron says. “After you figure out what needs to be in arm’s reach, you need to be able to trust that it is there in the same place every time.”

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She recommends the basic organizing principle of grouping similar items together – clothing, personal care products, medical supplies, office supplies, music and entertainment – and then taking from the groups what will be needed soon and placing it within reach. “This might mean that you have your music collection stored a little bit farther away,” she says. “But your favorite CDs will be a little bit closer” – within arm’s reach.
One pitfall that can lead to a disorganized working or living space is having too much stuff in it. Throw away things you don’t use.

“It’s important to be constantly purging and simplifying to remain organized, especially in a space the size of a cab,” Bergeron says. “You almost have to be brutal about what you keep and don’t keep.” Seasonal changes, for example, can mean changes in what drivers need in the cab. A pair of warm, lined gloves kept handy during winter might replace the unlined gloves used during summer.

Bergeron also cautioned against confusing “neat” with “organized.” “They are two very different things,” she says. “Being organized is about being able to retrieve and utilize.” If needed items are neatly put away and out of immediate reach, “they are of no value to you.” Bergeron says a neat workplace might look just fine, “but the work involved in keeping up that appearance is totally unproductive.”

In other words, the inside of a working cab might appear cluttered when it is really a picture of organization, safety and efficiency.

Truckers might have 20 different things close at hand while driving so the items can be reached and used without stopping or breaking focus. This kind of organization might not appear neat, but it enables drivers to keep moving safely and comfortably.

Drivers must also ensure all items, even those used frequently, are stowed securely. A cup or bottle that doesn’t properly fit in the beverage caddy can spill with a good bump, make a huge mess or, worse, roll under a brake, clutch or throttle pedal. Items left loose on the dash or passenger seat can “migrate” out of reach over time from bumps and vibrations. Reaching for these items then means stretching across the cab and severely compromising safety.

Using containers, such as seat organizers and special boxes for CDs or cassettes, is an effective way to bring order to a messy cab. “I have one of those seat-hanging organizers,” says owner-operator Benson Runyan of Prattville, Ala. “They’re great for things like trip packs and other paperwork.” He can reach the organizer and CD collection from the driver’s seat quickly, easily and safely.

“Everything has its place,” he says. “It’s part from being in the military and part from being raised that way.” Runyan says he can’t stand being unorganized. “You waste time looking for stuff,” he says.

To make the most of his cab space, Runyan built his own wooden storage trays, cabinets and shelves that fit into his ’96 Pete 379’s existing storage spaces. “I split the storage space in half so smaller things will fit,” he says, adding that he wishes the manufacturer would make drawers for the cab. But most department stores have plastic tubs of various sizes that work well for securely storing items and also make moving into or out of a truck faster and easier.

Runyan also keeps a kitchen-size, 13-gallon trash can and “a big supply of those Hefty trash bags.” He says all trash gets thrown away, and he regularly empties the trashcan. He also uses a tape recorder instead of paper and pen. “I use it to take notes, to record information off equipment I haul and also to record directions,” Runyan says. This keeps his cab free of paper and pens and allows him to take or retrieve notes while driving without sacrificing safety or losing time.

Runyan lives in his truck about three weeks a month. But company driver Tony Trigg of Hattiesburg, Miss., with 20 years of driving experience, is home every five or six days, so he doesn’t bring that much along. “A bag of clothes, water, sodas, a loaf of bread and some lunchmeat,” he says. Trigg also uses a tape recorder, “for mileage and things, so I don’t have to write.” His paperwork and logbook are “always in the same place on the dashboard,” and Trigg also hangs grocery bags from the dash. “When they get full, I toss them out,” he says. Trigg says his employer – Palmer Byrd of Seminary, Miss. – washes and vacuums the 2000 International Eagle he drives every week. “I spray it with Lysol to keep the cold germs down and smelling good,” he says.

Living and working in a disorganized space is unacceptable for owner-operator Carl Middleton of Tuscaloosa, Ala., who stays out two or three weeks at a stretch. “I’m the type of person, I hate disarray,” says Middleton, who has 15 years of driving experience. He says his ’98 Volvo 660 comes with drawers for clothes and other things. “I have a silver office organizer for BOLs, paperwork and logbooks,” Middleton says. “I even have a place for my spare change.”

Middleton says he keeps his cab neat and organized because, “It’s my home. I got a clothes basket for dirty laundry and two trash cans,” he says. “When I take my shoes off at the end of the day, I put them away.”

“It’s like this,” he says. “I was raised to be neat, but it’s more than that. I’ve got to live in there.” Middleton is also concerned about what the appearance of his cab says about him. “I’m my own salesman,” he says. “If I’m a mess or my truck’s a mess, people might not want me around.”

What does an unorganized working and living space say about a person? “That’s a loaded question,” says Bergeron. “There is a tendency in our society to look down on disorganization, but it’s important to reserve judgment until you understand a person’s organizing system.” Different people organize their working and living spaces differently, according to how they can be most effective and comfortable, she says.

Still, appearance counts for something. According to the American Psychological Association, a tremendous amount of information about a person can be obtained by looking at his or her “personal space,” such as bedroom or office. Research done by University of Texas psychologist Dr. Sam Gosling showed that working and living spaces give out accurate personality clues about the person who uses them.

Who cares about personality clues? “Risk management insurance companies will often look at the degree of organization in order to assess risk,” Bergeron says. “You’re just more prone to make mistakes in a disorderly environment.” If a driver has an accident, lawyers will want to know specifically what the driver was doing at the time the accident occurred. Was the driver talking on a cell phone or, for that matter, doing anything that removed his or her focus from the road?

Organizing is Worth Your Time
DOT and other law enforcement officials will take note if a driver cannot find relevant paperwork, including bills, logbook and fuel/toll receipts to verify entries, CDL, registration, proof of insurance and inspections, and medical card. Drivers who produce crumpled or soiled paperwork and documents during routine checks at scales are inviting additional scrutiny. That’s why cab organization starts with a good pre-trip inspection that includes the truck’s permit book and the trailer’s registration and inspection. Drivers who know these documents are present and up to date have one less thing to think about as they cross state lines and pull into scales.

Besides safety and efficiency, good cab organization can translate into more money. Drivers are allowed to deduct many expenses from their taxes, and keeping receipts is a good idea that can net a driver thousands of dollars at tax time. But receipts are worthless if they are lost and annoying if left lying around. Keep receipts put away in a bag or a box, or keep a ledger.

Lefty vs. Righty
The “creative right brain – logical left brain” theory has been called into question since its birth in the 1960s. But the bulk of the evidence still suggests that the brain’s left side interprets single facts more effectively, and its right side interprets on a more general level. The way a driver organizes a truck’s cab interior can indicate which side of his or her brain is dominant.

“A right-brain person tends to organize differently than a left-brain person,” says organizing consultant Barbara Bergeron of SOS Organization Services in Chester Springs, Penn. “A right-brain person is going to be more comfortable with things being horizontal rather than vertical,” Bergeron says. “A left-brain person tends to like things stored vertically.”

Take a look at your cab. If you’ve organized things so they’re spread out and you can see them all at once, your right brain was at work. If you’ve stored items on shelves above and below so they are largely out of sight, that’s the left side of your brain dominating.

“The right-brain wants everything spread out in front,” and will be more comfortable having more items in view, Bergeron says. “The left-brain person wants an uncluttered work area to function in,” and will feel that things spread out and in view are out of place and need to be put away, she says.

Clutter is not necessary for right-brain people to function, but they might need more sensory stimulation: textures, pictures and sounds.

The difference is also evident in behavior. Bergeron says right-brain people tend to have two or three activities going at once, while left-brain people stay with just one or maybe two. She said the right-brain “multi-tasking” might seem advantageous, and it’s just fine during simple tasks. But multi-tasking may dilute the quality of work that requires more focus.

Tips for Staying Organized
Before driving, create and follow comfortable, detailed organizing systems for long- and short-term storage.

  • Designate specific locations for everything you bring into the cab.
  • Make a list of items likely to be needed during driving.
  • Securely store these items so they can be safely retrieved and used while driving.
  • Securely store infrequently used items in bins, boxes, drawers or cabinets.
  • Update organizing systems as necessary.
  • Do a thorough pre-trip that includes cab and trailer paperwork.
  • Put items back in their designated places right away after use.
  • Put trash in proper containers.
  • Clean up spills and stains as quickly as possible.
  • Clean the entire cab once a week.
  • Keep paperwork clean and in order.

The Value of Cleanliness
A cab interior marked by months of dust buildup and coffee stains can negatively influence the driver’s morale. Windshields, mirrors and side windows that go uncleaned are safety hazards during night driving when they catch the glare of oncoming headlights and momentarily obscure the road from view. Also, employers, inspectors or law enforcement personnel who check cabs and find them filthy might make mental notes about a driver’s conscientiousness.

Once the driver lets a cab get dirty and the dirt settles in, cleaning can become time consuming. So the best way to keep a cab clean is prevention. For example, every driver who’s pulled a fifth-wheel release knows how easy it is to pick up a small spot of grease, transfer it to the seat, and then to every shirt or jacket that comes in contact with it. The same spot of grease on a shoe transfers to the cab floor, then to other shoes and floors. To avoid this, check clothes and shoes before getting into the cab, and clean all spills and stains immediately, if possible. A roll of absorbent paper towels kept within reach on the overhead storage comes in very handy for spills while driving, but a more thorough cleaning during the next stop is advisable.

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