February 24, 2012
Office pileup: Tackle that messy desk
It starts innocently enough. A piece of mail doesn’t get put away; a project is set aside; items you think you might need someday accumulate. Suddenly, your desk has disappeared.
Or, if you’re Shoreline Community College preschool teacher Donna T., a well-meaning friend enters it into a messy-desk contest. And it wins.
“The desk ends up with the stuff I don’t know what to do with,” says Donna, who spends most of her day in a classroom and doesn’t use her desk as a desk.
In professional-organizing circles, that “stuff” has a name.
“We like to call them ‘delayed-decisions piles,’ ” says Elizabeth Bowman, president of Innovatively Organized, the productivity company that sponsored Seattle’s Messiest Desk contest.
Piles and clutter are signs that someone isn’t deciding quickly where something goes or what to do with it, Bowman says: “They just want to set it aside and move on to something else, because stuff is happening so fast.”
Disorganized workspaces have a downside that goes beyond the aesthetic. Eighty percent of respondents in a 2010 Brother International survey agreed that someone who is disorganized “hurts the productivity of the whole office.”
What’s more, 86 percent considered cluttered workspaces “unprofessional.”
Suggestions for keeping a clutter-free desk, from Innovatively Organized’s Elizabeth Bowman:
So what’s the key to keeping a tidy workspace? To file instead of pile? To put away instead of putting aside? Set it up right in the first place, says Bowman.
“Most people just start an office with a desk and a computer and start working,” she says. “Then all this paper flows in, and they don’t have a place for it."
It requires an initial time investment, but the proper setup -- one that’s low-maintenance and not overly complex, Bowman says -- ultimately maximizes the time that you have in the day to be productive.
But what if your space has been up and running for enough time to get overwhelmed by stuff? You could employ the services of a professional organizer such as Bowman, call “Hoarders” or simply tackle it yourself.
Gannett’s small-business columnist, Rhonda Abrams, has a decluttering strategy for her workspace that starts with the right tools:
• Comfy clothes
• Two trash cans (one for trash and a bigger one for recycling)
• A shredder for confidential documents
• File folders and a label maker
Next, Abrams recommends picking up each piece of paper and making a decision: Is this something I really need? If so, Abrams suggests, decide what to do with it. If not, toss it.
These are the same decisions Donna faced when Bowman and an Innovatively Organized crew arrived to help her transform her desk -- the prize for winning the contest.
“We were able to recycle, toss and donate many items” based on Donna’s decisions, Bowman says. “We also found several items that belonged in other rooms.”
Activity-related items that had piled up on Donna’s desk were sorted and put in easily accessible clear plastic bins that make it easy for her to see the contents. Everything else that she wanted to keep was organized in and around her desk, as depicted in the “after” photo.
“You can fit a lot into a small space when you plan it out,” Bowman says.
And now, Donna says, everything is labeled, allowing others to find things as easily as she can.
“They helped me a lot,” she says. “I know where everything goes, and I now have a place to put it.”
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