I was speaking at the conference of a very busy consumer brands Marketing Department on how to manage their office environment and overload of paper and information. Since their Manager had read ‘Getting a grip on the paper war’ she’d been trying to convert her staff, but decided when the book got lost on someone’s desk that she’d better get me in to help reinforce the message!
I asked: ‘Who regards themselves as tidy and organised….’ (Before the question was finished, most hands went up.) … with their desks?’
A laugh went round the room, most hands went down, and some folk looked embarrassed.
That’s a typical response. Most professionals, especially highly educated ones, haven’t been taught simple methods to keep the desk tamed, and so that wonderful stress-reducer – a clear desk – is missed.
Seems to me it’s so obvious that it’s slipped under the radar.
Here’s a simple desk-management technique to help you get through the mass of ‘stuff’ waiting for your quick action.
Chunk your ‘put-away’ tasks
Develop a ‘Put it away as you go’ habit, but don’t be ruled by it. Chunk it.
What do I mean by that? Imagine yourself working at the desk. You finish with a file, or a paper out of a file. If you were to rigidly apply the ‘put away as you go’ principle, you’d jump up, walk over to the filing cabinet, and replace it. Or maybe you borrowed scissors from the receptionist. She threatened you with early death if you don’t return them, so the minute you’re finished you do as you were told. Then, (if you’re lucky and don’t get distracted), back you go to your desk to start on the next activity.
Two possible things can happen here.
- You spend many minutes per day jumping up and down, interrupting the momentum you’d created at your desk.
- Because you’ve completed something and not yet begun the next task there isn’t as strong a subliminal pull back to your desk. You’re therefore more liable to be distracted by some interesting little by-way, a file that catches your eye, or someone else walking past.
To overcome that scenario, try this one instead. You finish a task and put the completed materials either on the furthest away point of your desk out of your immediate visual range, or maybe (as long as it doesn’t cause a traffic jam!) on the floor beside or behind your chair. The next time you stand up, instead of stepping over the seeming clutter on the floor you ALWAYS bend down, pick it up, and put it away.
I learned this technique as a mother, trying to stay sane raising six children. (Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day these principles would be shared with business people!).
Whilst the children were little, (and anyone who’s lived with children knows they have a profound disregard for tidiness) I found that, in a drive to keep the house looking a few notches above a war zone, a silly amount of the day seemed to be consumed in putting things away! Eventually I learnt to make piles ‘to be put away in another room’ by the door of any room being worked in. Then, as I walked out the door I’d pick up the pile, quickly zip around the house by the shortest possible route (implementing a simple time and motion exercise) and put everything away. It was vastly more efficient than running around the house with each separate item.
Apply the same technique in your office, no matter how large or small, and you’ll gain great time-savings. It may seem a slightly untidy way of working but in fact it’s very efficient.
Even though there is a slight delay, you are still putting things away as you go – whilst they’re fresh in your mind. It’s rarely longer than 30 minutes before you put away your current crop of ‘stuff’. You never end up with an intimidating pile of filing (and I’ve seen some mountains!). Over a year many hours are saved – you don’t walk around unnecessarily. If it’s filing, you don’t need to spend time re-familiarising yourself with the item or paper in hand, but it hasn’t interrupted your flow of activity.
Bottom line – it saves you spending ‘the term of your natural life’ majoring in minor things.