By Denise Willms
The Problem with Clutter
Did you start your workday with an already cluttered desk? If so, a recent survey conducted in the UK by Avery Dennison Worldwide Office Products indicates you werenít the only one. More than half of the survey participants couldnít remember the last time they saw their desks. But, does all this clutter really pose a problem? Sometimes it seems that cleaning up the clutter is more time consuming than working around it.
Clutter interferes with office productivity on a few different levels. First of all, clutter is a time waster in an already full day. Think of the wasted minutes and extra frustration spent sifting through piles looking for that document you had in your hands just yesterday. Secondly, a disorganized environment can leave your mind feeling cluttered too. Being surrounded by so many tasks all requiring your attention makes it difficult to focus on one task or to prioritize your projects properly. And finally, a job doesnít feel finished until itís cleaned up. Putting away a finished project provides a feeling of closure, freeing you to fully concentrate on your next task.
The Real Reason Your Desk Is Cluttered
Take heart! Despite your messy desk, youíre not lazy, nor are you a slob. Habit, time management, and your office furniture are all culprits when it comes to desk clutter.
You may be able to place the blame for your cluttered desk on your office furniture! A small desk can feel cluttered just by spreading out your current project. Or, you may not have enough shelving for the books you refer to throughout your day, leaving you no choice but to pile them on your desk. Do you have enough filing cabinets and are they easily accessible? If not, extra files will end up on, you guessed it, your desk. Appropriate office furniture and enough storage space are essential to maintaining a clutter-free work environment.
Almost everyone procrastinates on tasks that we donít like to do. If certain types of routine work regularly accumulate on your desk, itís usually work you donít enjoy doing or that you donít have time to do. You may need to reexamine your workflow and give these tasks to someone else in your office who either likes these tasks or has more time for them than you do. If thatís not possible, consider outsourcing these specific tasks to a virtual assistant or someone who specializes in that type of work. You may even want to enlist the help of a professional organizer to help you find more efficient ways of working.
Most often, clutter is simply a habit. It's easy to fall into the habit of leaving items lying on your desk and not taking the time to put them away. If habit is the cause of your clutter, you can break the clutter cycle by establishing new habits and new daily routines.
Now that you have examined the real reasons your desk is cluttered, itís time to do something about it. The following steps will lead you to a cleaner desk and help you make changes that will prevent your desk from becoming so cluttered again.
Easy Steps to Decluttering
Small changes made each day will ease the decluttering process as well as establish new habits. For the next five days, take five to fifteen minutes out of your workday to work on one part of your clutter. By the end of the five days, you will have a clean desk and will be on your way to establishing new habits and daily routines.
Congratulations on your decision to declutter!
For today, simply determine if your office furniture is suitable for your needs. For example, if you normally work with a lot of paper spread around you, a larger desktop may resolve your clutter problem. Do you refer to books throughout the course of your workday? A hutch for your desk or a bookshelf will lessen the chance of these books piling up on your desk. If your desk is not suitable for your needs, or if you need some additional office furniture, spend some time today shopping for what you need. Shop online for greater convenience, and to avoid the additional clutter of office furniture catalogs on your desk.
Today youíre going to remove all non-paper, unessential items from your desktop. Prepare three boxes and label them Keep, Return and Toss. Remove all non-paper items from your desk and place into the appropriate boxes. This includes items such as stuffed animals, pictures, empty coffee cups and other odds and ends that are not used in your daily work. Find a more appropriate place for the items you would like to keep. Pictures, for example, can be hung on walls rather than placed on your desk. Stuffed animals can be placed on shelves. Recycle or throw away the items to be tossed and return the items that need to be returned. Youíll still have your piles of paper for now, but the only other items left on your desk should be the items necessary for your daily work.
Today youíll be attacking the crux of the clutter problem: paper. Dealing with paper is the hardest part of tackling clutter because there is so much of it and it accumulates very quickly. Depending on how much paper you have, use either your boxes from Day 2 or simply separate it into separate stacks.
Begin clearing one side of your desk, and, paper by paper, make your way to the other side. As you pick up each piece of paper, decide if you should keep it, return it or toss it, and then place it in the appropriate pile. You will need to make two separate piles for documents youíre keeping, one for active and one for inactive documents. If youíre scared to throw something away, thatís fine. Place it in the inactive pile to be dealt with later. Donít let a little fear stand in the way of your clean desk.
Finish off the task by giving your desktop a thorough cleaning. Leave your desk ready for the next day with only essential items you need for your workday. This was probably a draining task, so weíll do something about the piles of paper tomorrow.
You saw your desk when you came into work this morning! Thatís great progress. Itís time to finish up with that paper. Recycle or shred the paper in the pile to be tossed, and return other peopleís items. Your active files can be placed on your desk in a file holder, and your inactive files placed out of the way to be filed later. Spend some time at the end of your day putting things away so you can come in to the same clean desk tomorrow morning.
You did it! Youíre desk should now be decluttered. To keep it this way, get out your appointment book and make some appointments with yourself.
First, set a date to begin going through your inactive file box. You may need to schedule several appointments to take care of these properly. Then, at the end of each workday, schedule five minutes for yourself to clear off your desk and put everything where it belongs.
It can take six to eight weeks for a new behavior to become a habit, so force yourself to clean off your desk daily with that goal in mind. Take one day a week to thoroughly clean your desk, including dust it (hint: in order to dust it, you have to be able to find it!). If you still arenít able to make time in your day to keep your desk clean, you may need to enlist the aid of a professional organizer. If routine administrative tasks continue to pile up on your desk, think about different ways of handling this work. Outsourcing to a virtual assistant or other professional may help you resolve the issue.
Now that you have come this far, you can apply these five steps to the rest of your desk and your office. Good luck!
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