Look at your desk right now. Is it messy? If so, don’t feel too bad. It isn’t uncommon. I scheduled two days off last week to deal with my own desk.
Instead of just cleaning your desk off once in a while, it is important to stop and make changes to your system. If you don’t change your process and organization, you’ll be back in the same position in a week or so. Take a look at your desk...
1. Do you have reading materials on your desk?
Magazines, newspapers or newsletters that you feel you should be reading, can consume a bunch of desk real estate. For many people, finding that extra down time to catch up reading, rarely happens and these items just become clutter. Here are some tips for dealing with reading material.
- Stop it at the source. Be honest with yourself about whether you are likely to find the time to read something in the future. If not, get off the mailing list or cancel the subscription. Take time to read the back issues you have and then decide if it is worth subscribing again.
- Opt for higher-quality, succinct publications. Consider subscribing to one or two newsletters that provide a good overview in your area of interest. This is much more efficient than trying to keep up with 10 different publications.
- Keep what you need. Glance through a magazine and tear out the articles that you want to read. Or glance through the newsletter and highlight the articles you are interested in. The next step is key ... now put this somewhere you are likely to read it. Your computer bag, so you can pull it out while waiting at the airport or in your car to read in traffic or while waiting at an appointment.
- Get it in audio form. If you have a longer commute, consider checking into whether your publication is available in audio form. This is a fantastic way to catch up on the latest and not clutter your desktop with the paper version.
- Get a bookshelf - If you have more books than places to put them, get bookshelves. Do not settle for pressed-wood shelves that will bend and break. Buy real wood bookshelves that will please you for years to come. Consider having a carpenter build permanent shelves for you. Often the cost per foot of shelf is lower and you can get them designed exactly where and how you want them.
2. Does your desk contain items that need to be filed?
If there are items on your desk that need to be filed, but haven’t yet been organized, ask yourself, “why”? Why are they still sitting on your desk? Is your filing cabinet too far away? Is the filing process a pain, so you set things on your desk rather than put them away? Keep in mind that clutter causes clutter. Keeping an organized desk will help you stay organized. Keeping a cluttered desk will encourage you to put more on it because “one more piece of paper doesn’t really matter.”
Look at your filing system and the process you have currently. Is the system clearly identified? Are the most often used files within easy reach? Are there files in your prime real estate area that should be further away in the archives?
3. Are there papers on your desk that require action?
This is a big area of desk clutter – those papers that require some action, but you have yet to get to. Take a look at these papers and write a number in the corner lightly in pencil, indicating the number of minutes you feel it will take to deal with this. These are the items that you might be better off dealing with as soon as they come in. Is there a reason you didn’t just open that bill and put it in a folder marked “To Be Paid”? Why didn’t you just sign that form and send it back when you got it? A good first step is understanding why you put off taking that 2 to 5 minutes to deal with this when you received it.
Papers that require longer action may be a bit more problematic. However, is your desk the best place to stack papers like this? At the very least, the action should be noted on your schedule and the papers placed in an inbox or folder. If you have a lot of papers that require action in the future, use a tickler system that will bring these papers to your attention right on time. Of course, if you have papers that require attention, but not necessarily your attention, they can be delegated and put in your partner's inbox.
4. Are there things on your desk that don’t belong there?
It is important that other people that live or work with you understand the ‘rules’ about your work space. If they want to bring something to your attention where do you want them to place it? Make sure you have a designated spot. A messy desk will breed more mess. If your desk is kept fairly clear, then you (and others) are less likely to plop items and leave them.
Right now on a corner of my desk there is a Pampered Chef baking dish with an AirSoft rifle scope sitting in it. My husband wants the baking dish replaced because it cracked and my son asked me to look into getting the rifle scope replaced because it broke. I sent a quick e-mail to each company asking for return directions. The two items are allowed to sit on my desk because they are pending further action.
5. Do you have enough storage space?
With my clients, I always recommend a good solid desk with plenty of drawers for storage. Forget the cheap computer workstations. Get a good office-style desk with drawers for supplies and hanging file folders. Another recommendation is a lateral file cabinet for additional file space and storage. Open cubicle spaces for books, binders, supplies or baskets to corral like items.
Having good storage for the things you need virtually guarantees that the stuff that used to plop down on your desk, now has a better home and is much more likely to get put away.
Keeping your desk organized will probably always require effort. Some people keep an organized desk naturally. Others don’t. However, there is significant benefit for anyone who works toward keeping their workspace organized–whether it comes easily, or not. The five questions above will help you better identify the sources of your clutter and hopefully give you some tips for dealing with it. With an organized desk you are more likely to quickly find what you need and to focus on your highest priorities while working there.
To get help with your system call (860) 608-0451. For more information visit our website at www.forpeaceofmind.biz.
Professional Organizer for home and office
President of NAPO-CT