Staying Organized with Grid-It

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grid-itNote: This is the first “real” post in my Tools, Hacks, and More section – see my intro here. If you’d like it to be my last, or if you find it useful, scroll down and take the one-checkbox poll! Amazon and other product links will usually be affiliate links. Opinions and reviews are as unbiased as someone who writes about psychological biases can manage.

I’ve begun using a gizmo that has attracted attention whenever I pull it out of my bag. People have asked what it is and where I got it. Some have even snapped photos. It’s not a new product, but apparently hasn’t been discovered by all that many people. Hence, it seems fitting to use this simple product as the first topic in this new section.

Road Warrior Dilemma

As a writer, speaker, and occasional consultant, I enjoy a good deal of location independence. I’m able to work from most anywhere with a good internet connection. And, because speaking commitments take me all over the world, I often have no choice but to work from airport lounges, hotel lobbies, and coffee shops.

And, with more flights offering Wifi, even an airline seat can become a mobile workspace. That’s a mixed blessing, to be sure. (Believe it or not, there was a time when a traveler could board a plane and crack open a novel without feeling guilty about being unproductive.)

While the ability to work from anywhere is mostly a good thing, it also makes having the right gear with you essential. So, I carry a lot of accessories. First, I’ve got my MacBook Pro and associated gear. Then, I’ve got communications – phone(s), chargers, headsets/earbuds, adapters, etc. Convenience items include a bulky but highly effective set of Bose QC15 noise-canceling headphones, plus mints, lip balm, soft cleaning cloth, etc.

I usually carry an iPad, too, which provides reading material and music for the longest international flights without needing a charge.

As a speaker, I always show up anticipating the possibility of a tech failure at the venue. I’ve had laptops die, clickers that failed to advance slides, and slide decks that were supposed to be preloaded that were nowhere to be found.

I can’t do much if the venue’s sound or lights go out (that’s happened too), but I’m ready with my deck on my own laptop, on a thumb drive, and in the cloud. I carry a VGA adapter for my Mac, and my own presentation clicker. In a minute, I can swap out almost any of the venue’s gear that fails.

Add to that an assortment of adapters, power supplies, batteries, and miscellaneous items and I’ve got a lot of gear to organize.

For a long time, I relied on a laptop bag with lots of compartments to keep stuff in its place. I tossed in a little plastic box (kind of like a fishing lure box) with dividers to hold the smallest items.

After using the same laptop bag for years, I found for certain trips a larger, wheeled laptop bag worked best. (I’ll explain that in another post.) I occasionally use a backpack as an alternative to both. Of course, all have totally different section and pocket configurations.

Swift Switching, Easier Access

In casting about for a solution for quick switching between bags and providing better access to my gear, I ran across an ingenious product from Cocoon called Grid-It. It’s a flat board with a bunch of elastic bands across its face that let you attach any number of oddly shaped items. Or, as the maker puts it, it’s a “rubberized woven elastic object retention system for gadget organization.”

I bought one Grid-It to make up for a lack of pockets in my rolling bag and to speed up switching bags.

That worked so well that I bought another to eliminate my little plastic box. The divided box wasn’t a bad solution, but the rigid dividers created little spaces that didn’t accommodate items that were a little too wide or tall. Wasted space and sharp corners were also problems.

One of my Grid-Its includes an emergency battery charger, an unlocked GSM phone for international travel, mini and micro-USB cables, batteries, a two-prong airline headphone adapter, an SD storage card, a bluetooth headset, a thumb drive, batteries, and mints/chapstick.
grid it 1

The other Grid-It has my Targus presentation clicker, Mac VGA and Ethernet adapters, iPad and micro USB cables, a super-slim USB wall charger, a thumb drive, and an Ethernet cable. It’s been a while since I used the Ethernet cable on the road, but I’ve occasionally found a hotel’s WiFi to be unusable so I still carry it. Oh, and I’ve got a few United Airlines drink coupons. Sit next to me, and I’ll buy you a beverage.
Grit-It 2

Grid-Its have helped in a couple of ways. Obviously, they make transferring gear faster. A bigger benefit might be the organization they offer. I always ended up with a jumble of items at the bottom of a dark pocket in my computer bag. Earbud cables would tangle with a car charger, and I’d fumble around to guess which USB cord had the iPad connector vs. the micro-USB end. Or, I’d try to remember into which of the dozen pockets I had tossed the thumb drive with my slide deck.

Grid-Its come in a range of sizes and colors, too, so whether you’ve got a huge computer bag or a tiny backpack compartment you need to organize you can find a size to fit.

Loading the Grid-It for the first time can be a bit challenging. It’s sort of a 3D-Tetris game where you place items under loops that hold them securely but don’t interfere with neighboring items. I found myself moving items from spot to spot as I added new ones.

The back of each Grid-It has a slim zippered compartment that might be good for documents, instruction sheets, contact lists, etc. I drop one of my business cards in there just in case I leave the Grid-It behind somewhere.

One Last Plus

A few months ago, I was going through an airport security check in Amsterdam and, along with all other passengers, I was instructed to take all my cables and electronic gear out of my computer bag and put them in a clear plastic bag. You can imagine the chaos this created in the x-ray line.

At the time, this was a request that bordered on ridiculous as every pocket and compartment in my laptop bag was stuffed with cables, adapters, batteries, and every other kind of electronic gear. Full removal and re-stowage would had taken more time than I had. I grabbed whatever large items I could extract to show I was attempting to comply. Luckily, I got through.

Subsequent EU flights didn’t have this same approach to security, but with the Grid-Its compliance would be far easier. Instead of searching nooks and crannies for gear, I could take out the Grid-Its and instantly account for all of my small items.

Grid-It Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Gear is visible for easy access.
  • Change bags in seconds by transferring Grid-Its.
  • Can be used for small items in all shapes and sizes
  • Inexpensive.

Cons:

  • Not as good for bulky/thick items.
  • First-time loading takes some trial and error.

So far, this is the best solution I’ve seen for road warrior organization. Quick swaps between bags are enabled, and gear is easy to find.

This is the 12″ x 8″ Grid-It that I use: Grid-It Organizer, Black (CPG10BK)
Other sizes are available. I’ve wondered if I could get my stuff onto a single 15″ x 9.5″ Grid-It. That would fit my bags (just barely) and condense everything onto one layer, reducing thickness vs. two units back to back.

Do you use these or something similar? Share your favorite travel organization tips in a comment! And, if you have an opinion on the “Tools & Hacks” section here, good or bad, answer the single-check survey here:

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4 Comments
  1. Lynn Huffman says

    Very cool organizer! Thanks for the tip and review. So much better than multiple pockets in a carry-on tote.

  2. Grace Lazzara says

    Just forwarded this article to a few of my road-warrior colleagues, and one of them already made a purchase!

  3. Roger Dooley
    Twitter: rogerdooley
    says

    Hope your colleague enjoys it, Grace. Seems like I convert someone whenever I pull mine out of my case. Kind of odd that more people don’t know about this – on one item alone at Amazon there are 700+ reviews dating back as far as 2010. Must be a cult thing. I stumbled across it a few months ago when I was doing research on a rolling laptop bag. A review mentioned it, I checked it out, and immediately bought my first one.

  4. Bossini says

    Grid-It is a great invention. I just ordered one for my upcoming vacation to organize my luggage.

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