Get Things In Order

Organize the clutter on your desk

Does the inbox on your desk look like a pack rat’s nest? Do pangs of separation anxiety hit at the thought of throwing away even a memo? Fear not, many find managing paperwork or clutter among the top 10 time- consuming and dreaded workplace activities.

“When messages, mail, client files and new assignments all end up in a jumble your desk, problems arise,” says Odette Pollar, president of Time Management Systems, an Oakland, California-based management training consulting firm. “People collect and pile junk because they don’t want to forget things. But the clutter becomes emotionally draining, affecting your retrieval and decision-making skills and hampering your ability to do a good job.”

Even if you can be quite efficient while wallowing in a sea of paper and office bric-a-brac, consider the image you send to your clients and colleagues. A messy workspace connotes a lack of self-respect and gives the impression that you don’t know what you’re doing, adds Pollar.

To get organized for the new year, Pollar offers the following solutions in her book, Organizing Your Workspace: A Guide to Personal Productivity (Crisp Publishing, National Book Network Inc., $9.95; 800-462-6420):

  • Think in terms of “one”–clear one drawer, one file, one bookshelf at a time. Don’t try to do everything at the same time. When you get tired, stop and come back later.
  • Start at the top of a pile and work your way down. If you touch something, make a decision. Ask yourself, In which file does it go specifically? and What is my next step?
  • Remove things you don’t use frequently, such as electric pencil sharpeners, paperweights, awards and the matching pen-and-pencil set you got for Christmas … three years ago.
  • Don’t allow newspapers and magazines to mount up; cut out the articles you want and develop a clip file.
  • Place like things together. Put all personal effects in one drawer, arrange telephone lists alphabetically and organize meeting records chronologically. Store catalogs and vendor information by subject and label, label, label!
  • Don’t keep things just because they are interesting. Throw out duplicates, keeping just one copy. Hold on to items that would be hard to replace, or those required by law or integral to a project or client file.
  • Part with some of your memorabilia and family photos. You’ll be surprised how much more workspace you’ll have.
  • Set goals. For example, devote 20 minutes each day to opening mail and emptying your inbox.

While cleaning, think of the environment and recycle.