Bold statement? Well – decisions relating to their paperwork, anyway.
By about now probably at least one reader wants to slap me down, but keep reading. Maybe I can convince you!
Susan was one of my clients. Files and paper layered her desk like wallpaper. Even she didn’t remember the colour of her desktop – it hadn’t been seen in years. People shuddered as they walked past, and everyone was scared to leave anything there for fear it would never see the light of day again.
With very few exceptions, desk owners like Susan feel as though they’ve got just too much work to do, whether they’ve got a small space in an open-plan environment or a large but seriously cluttered self-contained office. Even when they make bold statements to others such as ‘I know where everything is’, there’s a little corner of their mind going ‘I’ve got TOO MUCH TO DO’. Stress and a sense of overload are the outcome.
The great news is – clearing the clutter is the fastest stress-releaser in town.
Almost everyone with a messy environment has two things in common:
- They don’t make decisions when something first arrives – whether physical or electronic. The typical thought process is: ‘I’ll think about (or look at) that later’
- Something needs doing some time soon. They put it beside their current work, at their elbow, under their nose, so they ‘won’t forget it’ until they ‘get round to it’. Then, when the next thing arrives it goes on top of the ugly pile already there, or a new pile starts.
Before too long the whole desk is littered. Then every other available space is brought into service – floor, tables, shelves, the top of any nearby furniture or equipment. If it’s an open-plan environment the flood-tide of non-decisions and waiting items becomes a tsunami – affecting all those around.
To overcome this challenge three areas need attention – layout and equipment; cleaning out the clutter and setting up good systems; and then good habits, maintaining the systems.
1. Layout and equipment
- Place things upright, not flat. Then you can retrieve and return them quickly. Quefiles, designed by one of my clients, are the best solution I’ve found.
- The space closest to you is your most precious. Only have things within reach that you use constantly.
- If your desk is facing others you’ll regularly be distracted. Many people find up to an extra hour a day by simply shifting their desk, chair or computer position.
2. Clean up the clutter and set up good systems
We all allow insidious junk to sneak into little corners. There’s bound to be some ‘stuff’ that can be either thrown out or repositioned, put into archives, or taken home.
Have an annual ‘Clean up the office day’ and involve the whole team. This is a great way to get a fast start. It’s also more enjoyable. (If you’d like more help with this topic, check out ‘Getting a grip on the paper war’, available from all good bookshops or our website.)
What about that backlog of old files (not urgent, but waiting for attention)? Ever heard someone justify piles with ‘I’ll get to them soon – not worth putting them away right now.’ What subliminal message do we get when work sits in front of us all the time? All day long invisible hands wave at us, saying ‘Pick me, pick me’. Pressure, pressure!
One solution is to make a daily appointment with ourselves to work for an hour a day on the backlog. Select a time of day when you’ll be ready for a break from more demanding work. It’s amazing how quickly we can reduce the pile when we’re focused. (The most critical part of this advice is to put a reminder in the diary.)
3. Maintain the systems
Place your current projects and work in a Quefile, using named folders for each category, and you’ve got everything you need within fingertip reach but neatly out of the way. They’re better than in-trays, which often become rats’ nests of forgotten documentation. The top of the desk is clear for whatever you’re currently working on, but future tasks are easily seen because of the tiered placement.
Another option is a desk suspension file drawer. However, many folk don’t like putting important work there for fear they’ll forget it – the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ syndrome.
When work comes in, the two first decisions are: ‘Can I do it in 2-3 minutes, or should I schedule time later?’ If it’s quick, do it now. If it needs a concentrated block of time, block a timeslot in your calendar and put it in its folder – out of eye range. Because you’ve made a diary note, and put it in a named folder, you won’t forget it.