A no-nonsense guide to achieving a more organized work space

I walked into my office the other day… and turned around and walked right back out. How did it get so messy? How did I let this happen? I couldn’t blame anyone else – I did it all by myself.

I do like a busy office. I’m a multi-tasker, and a completely clean desk has never really been an option for me.
A boss from many years ago believed that having a clean desk was very important. My ‘busy’ desk continually annoyed him, so one day he made a sign for my desk: ‘A cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind.’ In my defense (and, some would say, career short-sightedness) I made him a sign: ‘What does an empty desk say?’

Despite what happened in the past, I came to realize that I had to find a happy medium between an empty desk and one that looked like a tornado had just swept over it. But where to start? De-junking. This was the first step in what I’m sure will become a 12-step process!

Here are the next steps I’m going to take (and you can, too) on the path to a clean desk:

1. Get rid of empty containers. This includes empty correction fluid containers, empty aspirin bottles, empty tins and baskets.

2. Get rid of unnecessary duplication. How many pairs of scissors do you really need? One yellow highlighter is sufficient; five is junk. How many pads of Post-It notes do you currently have on the go? I need a couple of pens on my desk, but I don’t need a basket of 37. I’m putting them back in the supply cabinet (not in my drawers).

3. Old, dead stuff. Look through your desk drawer. How many old cough drops, pieces of gum, candy and heaven knows what else is in there? You probably have a bottle of nail polish (to stop a run in your nylons) that has the lid stuck on. If you have the local gym schedule on your wall, have a look at the date. I bet it’s out of date. Get rid of old, dead stuff.

4. Spare parts. I found an old punch from a former three-hole punch in my desk. What was I keeping that for? I found an old blade from an exacto knife. If, in the past year I haven’t used it, I’m getting rid of it (because it now qualifies as old, dead stuff).

5. Old calendars. Face it, you are never going to put those pictures in a frame and hang them in your office. Even if you did, they would probably look silly anyway. Yes, those puppies are cute. You enjoyed them in 1978. Now throw away the calendar.

6. Anything with an outdated address, phone number or name. I know you think you’ll use it for scrap paper, but there is always a lot of that floating around anyway, and we don’t need to store it. Put it in the recycle bin. Help the environment and help your efficiency at the same time.

7. Keys. If you don’t know what the key opens, throw it away.

8. Broken office furniture. We all seem to have that chair that has a broken wheel, or the desk with the broken drawers. Why do we keep them? We would never give it to someone as their furniture. It is taking up space and creating junk, so get rid of it.

9. Cord clutter. We certainly have a lot of cords, but use some twist ties and tidy them up. If you need to (and this is a good idea), colour code your cords and equipment to save time in the future. Do you really need three power bars under your desk? Do yourself a favour and organize those cords. It will save you frustration and time in the future.

10. Clothes clutter. Do you need your entire wardrobe at work? Keep one pair of shoes and one sweater. Take the rest home. If a disaster strikes and you spill something on your shirt, use it as an excuse to buy a new one (or put on your sweater).

If you work through these 10 steps, I am sure you will banish some of your junk, and tame some of your clutter. Of course, there is more to a clean desk than these steps alone, but at least it’s a start.

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Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, GSF is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If ... (Read More)

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