Biz Basics

By Beau Denton January 1, 2011

A Clutter-Free Workspace

It’s that time of year again—time for new calendars, resolutions and the urge to clear that mountain of clutter on the desk. Cynthia Warner, founder of Better Organized Sarasota, says the thought of wading through clutter is overwhelming to many people. “I always hear clients say they are ‘buried alive’ or ‘drowning,’” she says, adding that it’s a common process: Little by little, papers and other work items pile up, until one day you look at your desk and realize you have “lost control of your surroundings.”

But there is hope. Warner, who worked as a legal secretary in Washington, D.C., before moving to Sarasota and opening her organization business, says de-cluttering should be about clearing the junk and establishing a system for keeping your work area organized. Ideally, this results in a largely empty desktop. “Some people have an aversion to unused space,” says Warner, but for her, de-cluttering is a proven method for work success. Productivity is all about clearing distractions and “restoring clarity, focus and a sense of accomplishment,” she says.

Warner likes to remind her clients that it only takes about three weeks to form a lasting habit. If you set up a new system for organizing your workspace and stick with it for a month, you might be able to make a clutter-free office a permanent reality. When that’s done, Warner is confident you will notice a difference. “When you walk into an environment that’s clean, subtle and organized,” she says, your focus and productivity will skyrocket.

The hard part, of course, is getting started.

Five Steps Toward a Clutter-Free Office

Visualize. Before you even start, picture what you want your workspace to look like by the time you’re done. Otherwise you may end up just moving things around for a few minutes before giving up.

Purge. “Purge is the No. 1 word,” says Warner—especially at the start of a new year. And since a common clutter contributor is simply forgetting to throw things away, keep a large trash can by your desk; if you come across something that will serve no future purpose, toss it out immediately.

File. Warner has her clients create an “action file” for items requiring immediate attention, divided into folders such as contacts, appointments, bills and receipts. After that, she tells clients to move those items to another filing cabinet away from their desks.

Digitize. Since modern clutter can be more digital than physical, try applying these concepts to your inbox and computer desktop. Organize your files so that items not requiring immediate action can be moved out of sight for later access.

Repeat. Whenever you notice the clutter creeping up again, take some time to file and purge. If you can make it a habit now, de-cluttering your workspace will become that rare New Year’s gift: a resolution that actually works.

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