Friday, October 19, 2012

Easy Office Organization

As many of us have discovered, sometimes the chaos of home trickles into our workplace and disrupts our ability to work effectively. Sometimes our inability to organize at home translates to an inability to organize at the office. And sometimes, that lack of organization at the office can become so overwhelming that we don't even know where to start to tackle it.
I once got so overwhelmed by the clutter and paper and files on my desk that I literally swept everything off my desk and onto the floor-- where I couldn't see it-- and there it sat for quite a while until one day I realized I was sick of pawing through a pile of paper on the floor every time I needed to find something, missing deadlines because I misplaced important paperwork, and having many of my colleagues react in horror at the avalanche-esque pile of desk flotsam and jetsam that was sprawled next to my desk.

I'm sure a lot of you have felt like that a time or two, like it would just be easier to sweep  everything off your desk and pretend like the piles of paper didn't exist at all.

Ignoring piles never works long term. Trust me, I'm an expert.
The other day I was helping a good, albeit organizationally challenged, friend get her workspace in order (see photo above). The following are the tips I gave her, and I hope that these tips will also help you to create a more tranquil and organized office/workspace (and since it is Friday, you can organize your desk today before you leave the office for the weekend and have a fresh start Monday morning).
1) Assess the papers and files that have on your desk and separate them into two (temporary) piles: one pile for items you need on a regular basis and one for items you use less frequently.
2) Assess the other objects you have on your desk. Look at each object and run them through the workplace version of "Is it useful? Is it beautiful?" Do you use those items in your day to day work? Do they contribute to your productivity? Do they make you happy? If the answer is no, you need to find somewhere else for them to go.
(Sidebar: If you have one of those sets of stacking trays, move it somewhere else unless you absolutely need it and use it effectively. Most people I know--myself included-- just shove papers in there willy-nilly. In my humble opinion, the stacky trays gotta go!! If you can't get rid of your stackable tray, perhaps move it to another location in your office where it isn't likely to become cluttered with papers).
3) Get your files straight! I highly recommend a vertical, tiered, file sorter (like this) for on top of your desk. If you have one, great, if you don't, find a place where you can easily access you files without piling them (perhaps a desk drawer). Now assess the files you have in that sorter. Do they work for you? Are they all files you need easy access to on a regular basis? Do any folders need to be renamed?
After that, create file folders for items you need regular access to and set the irregular access folders in your irregular access file. Create a "for tomorrow" folder (we'll come back to this a little later).  Well labelled and easy to access files are key to office organization.
Take a few minutes to do a quick assessment of your filing cabinet, file drawers and/or credenza. Run those files through the same test you ran on your desktop files (literally, not computerally). Are there files in a filing cabinet that you should have in your desk drawer? Ones on the desk that should be in the filing cabinet? Quickly take a moment to rearrange and situate your files so that you have the best access to whatever you may need when you need it.
4) Now go through your piles and file items you use regularly into their desktop files and your irregular access pile and file them away into your file cabinet.
Ahhh... look at how lovely and organized your office is. Isn't organizing your office fun and refreshing?!?!
But wait, there is more!!!
At this point you may be thinking "Okay, this is all well and good, Cluttered Mama, but how do I keep my desk organized?"
Here are two things that I implemented in my work day which helped me stay focused and keep my office neat and organized.
First, block out the first 10 or so minutes of your workday for you to sit quietly and assess what you need to do during the work day. Go over the list you made the day before (see below) and pull out any projects you need to work on that day.
It is also important to also use that first 10 minutes to take a deep breath, say a prayer (or whatever your spiritual/centering activity is) for focus and productivity, and to switch your brain into "work" mode. Oftentimes, we arrive at our workplace harried from the act of just getting there, so it helps to take a few quiet moments to get your head in the game and get focused on shifting into work/office mode. 
Now, on the flip side, it is equally important to block out the last 15 minutes of your day. If you are anything like me, you are probably working until the very last second of your day, then looking up at the clock, realizing the time  and hurriedly closing up shop and running out the door (late), leaving your mess behind.
The way I found to combat this was to actually put this time on my Outlook calendar with a reminder that would pop up at 15 til. If you don't use outlook, put it in your google calendar or your phone or some other device that you can set to remind you that you need to start shutting down for the day. No matter what you are doing (unless it is like brain surgery or something of that nature), you need to stop what you are doing and use the last 15 minutes as such: 
5-7 minutes cleaning off your desk. That means putting away all the papers that are on your desk. Put projects that you need to work on the next day in your "for tomorrow" file. File all papers into their appropriate locations. Recycle or trash materials you no longer need.

5-7 minutes making a short to do list for the next workday. I love making lists; however, sometimes my lists would get away from me and I'd end up with an overwhelming to do list the length of a legal pad. So I started using the Pocket Docket printable from Simple Mom. I liked it because it gave me only so much space in which to write my list, it provided a space for meetings and appointments, and it allowed me a place to highlight my MITs (most important tasks). When you make your list, whether you use the Pocket Docket or not, highlight 2-3 MITs for the next day.

Now you are done and ready to go home and relax, knowing that you will be returning to an organized office in the morning. As long as you stick to this, even the messiest and most disorganized person (me) can have a neat and organized office!

Did I miss anything? What tips or tricks would you like to add?


  1. Right on track! Allowing yourself time to keep things on track each day makes you more productive in the long run!

    1. Glad to hear it! Keep up the good work friend who may or may not be the friend mentioned in the post! ;)

  2. I like my stackable trays. But I do keep them out of the way, in my overhead cabinet in my cubby. I HIGHLY suggest keeping tape dispenser and stapler in your drawer. Seems odd at first, but I realized I RARELY used those items and they were taking up valuable real estate on my desktop! They are in my drawer and easy to get to the one or two times each day I might need them!

  3. So true! I kept my stapler & tape in my overhear cabinet for that same reason!

  4. My goodness, I have a nearly identical work organization routine. Go figure, sis!


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