Your messy desk could be holding you back — and you’re probably not alone. Workplace surveys have found that employers are less likely to promote workers with disorganized workspaces, and estimates for the cost of lost productivity annually from messy desks in the U.S. total in the billions.
January 8 was National Clean Off Your Desk Day. So fortunately, there’s no better time to start tackling this common problem than now.
We asked Baton Rouge-based certified professional organizer Alyssa Trosclair to share a few strategies for decluttering and organizing your workspace, whether you’re toiling away in a busy office or paying bills in a quiet corner of your home.
So brew up a pot of Community® Mardi Gras King Cake coffee and kick off the new year with a coffee-fueled organizing session that will help make 2018 your most productive ever.
Tame the Paperwork Monster
“If you don’t have something to handle paper, it’s the number one thing that will quickly take over your life,” Trosclair says. “Paper enters your home or your office daily, so it will pile up more quickly than anything else.”
First, designate an inbox for incoming paperwork that’s separate from current projects or any other items you may have on your desk. It also helps to take steps to slow the tide of incoming paperwork. Opting out of mailing lists, such as catalogs, is a good start. For a more comprehensive approach, putting your name on a Do Not Mail List will drastically reduce the amount of paper you receive in the mail.
Trosclair also recommends keeping a trash can, recycle bin and a shredder within reach of your desk. Get rid of unnecessary paper as soon as it enters your home or office — before it establishes a permanent place on your desk. The key is taking action as quickly as possible.
“If paper can be handled in three minutes, handle it immediately,” she says. “If you handle it when it comes in, it’s a small, quick task. But if you let all those tasks build up, it becomes more of a project.”
Let It Go — Literally
The buildup of documents can happen in any workplace, but it’s more likely to become a severe problem for companies that aren’t clear about the rules for handling paperwork over the long run.
Trosclair encourages companies to establish clear retention guidelines so employees know how long they need to keep important papers. For employees, store archival paperwork well away from current documents that are needed on a daily basis when possible. Once the retention guidelines are in place, schedule the eventual document disposal on your calendar, even if it’s a year away, she says.
“Put ‘shred that brown box in the storeroom’ on your calendar so you don’t forget to go back and actually shred the paperwork,” Trosclair says.
Ask Yourself If You Really Need to See It
Trosclair says clients often argue they are visual thinkers and have to keep everything in sight on their desk or they’ll forget about important tasks. “I think their intention is to keep everything out to remind them what to work on, but eventually there is so much stuff on the desk that nothing stands out,” she says. “You’re no longer getting those cues.”
As an alternative, she recommends grouping related project materials in clearly labeled folders or binders. The goal is to start relying more on action items or a to-do list to prioritize your actions instead of the pile on your desk that catches your eye. “Let your priority be your cue and work on that stuff next instead of the thing on the top of the pile,” she says.
Tackle Visual Clutter
While nearly every desk has some sort of personal touches, sometimes those items can reach excessive levels and become a distraction or productivity killer. “Even if your desk is neat and organized, it’s going to look messy,” says Trosclair, who recommends getting rid of excess personal items, including trinkets, photos and memorabilia. “This will lead to increased productivity because you're spending less time looking for what you need and you're more focused on the task at hand,” she says.
Another way to simplify visual clutter is to group related items together — such as past projects, current projects and office supplies — and create a home for each group based on how frequently you use them. For example, current projects should have a place of prominence, while office supplies can usually be kept out of sight.
“Make sure everything on your desk has an assigned home,” she says. “Often people just stack things on their desk because they don’t know where else it goes.”