I don’t know where this idiom came from, but I can tell you how to use it.
As a kid, I thought it was a Navy thing. My father was in the Navy and was always telling us to “stow for sea” or make whatever we were doing “sea-worthy” because if we were on a boat and made a sudden turn we’d need to be prepared. Even though in southern Ohio we were about as landlocked as could be.
I specifically thought the phrase had something to do with his sea-bag, the large green sack (sock?) the Navy had given him for toting around all of his stuff. I thought it was in reference to packing all your stuff into that thing in the most logical way possible. Put things into the bag with highest priority things/stuff you’ll need access to first at the top.
The phrase is generally understood to mean “get organized,” but I’ve always associated it with the specific organizational task of prioritizing. A task also meant when using the term “ship-shape” which is the condition of being properly arranged, dare I say sea-worthy.
Now the word priority is something I do know about. It was first used in the 1400s to refer to the “state of being earlier” and was only used in the singular. As in, there is only one priority. The plural form is not recorded until about the mid-1600s (so about 250 years later) but then only infrequently, it didn’t come into common usage until the 1940s (another 300 years from its invention).
Then, in the early 1970s we get the words prioritize and prioritization because our day-to-day priorities had become so numerous that we needed verbiage to describe a process of ordering all the to-do items that simultaneously come first. As a person with OCD, specifically the compulsive nonaction of pervasive avoidance, this is something I have long struggled with. Now I have a list of parameters for spreadsheet-building to help me get my sh*t in a sock.
Parameters for Ship-Shape Priorities
Column 1 | priorities | list all the things that need doing.
Column 2 | due date, if applicable | make a note of how long you have to complete a task and or how overdue it is if you are playing catch-up with yourself; I have this in the second column because it is one of the most important factors for me and I tend to work from the nearest due date outward (regardless of it coming up or being past due).
Column 3 | reward or cost, financial or not, if applicable, may require multiple columns | sometimes we volunteer to do a thing, sometimes we are at risk of losing money on things, and sometimes the things we do carry returns of one kind or another; Not recognizing such factors is silliness.
Column 4 | emotional weight | a making of how it makes you feel, specifically how much you want it off your plate sooner rather than later; Looking over the other columns you’ve filled should make you feel something with regards to how important each item is to you and your feelings should not be discounted.
Column 5 | your final ranking | maybe you’ll use an equation that weighs each choice, maybe you’ll just fiddle with the A-Z and Z-A reordering of the columns to make your decision, but this final column is the order you intend on following to get these things done and off your plate.
Only you know what your true priority is. So get your sh*t in a sock and do it already.
Stow for sea!
Also published on Medium.