Is your office a wreck? Are you drowning in paper and to-dos? Are you unable to function in the one place where you’re supposed to be most productive? Would you like to make your working environment more, well, workable? Just click on any button to reveal a whole host of decluttering, ergonomics, information management, efficiency, and other miscellaneous organizing tips for that arena. Now get to work!
click a button for tips on organizing that part of your office
Regaining Control Over Your Computer
(So You Can Stop Being A Technoslave)
What the hell happened? Wasn't technology supposed to solve all of our organizational problems? Saving time, eliminating paper, relieving stress -- freeing us up to live a life of sunny days and grass hut leisure under the bam, under the boo? Ha! Sure, it's easier to stay in touch with long-distance friends online. Absolutely, it's nice to deposit a check without ever setting foot in a bank. And I do love winning the argument when we're trying to remember who was in that movie about the girl and the guy who do that thing. But all those electronic devices have created their own own unique set of complications -- requiring a whole new round of boundaries and systems to keep them from taking over your life:
- Always BACK up everything you do on your computer to both the hard drive and a disk -- you never know when your system might crash on you.
- Don't just dump a bunch of junk into your ROOT directory -- use one drive for program files and one drive for working documents.
- Set up folders in your E-MAIL program so you can sort incoming e-mail -- either according to what you have to do to it or by subject.
- Go through your disks and hard drive at least once a year -- discard any obsolete programs and DELETE files that you don't need anymore.
- Keep a PRINTED copy of all of your passwords, program installation codes, hardware serial numbers, and other vital information for fast access.
- Avoid using cryptic ABBREVIATIONS to name your files -- you should be able to immediately recognize what a document is from the file label.
- Develop a standard method for NAMING files -- author, document name, date, and version -- both computer files and hard copies.
- Organize the files in your computer to match your paper FILING system -- use the same categories, sub-categories, and file names.
Getting The Most Out Of Your Work Schedule
(While Also Having Time For A Private Life)
Do you find yourself spending evenings and weekends at the office because you couldn't manage to get a damn thing done during regular work hours -- what with all the pointless meetings and 11th-hour fires to put out and really important water cooler conversations? Wouldn't it be nice if you could consistently complete the day's tasks before 5 o'clock, then actually head home on time? What a concept! It might sound like a pipe dream (especially in this era of "career-success-means-living-at-your-job") -- but I promise it's possible! You just have to structure your schedule in a way that creates reliable blocks of time for your top priorities, discourages interruptions, and teaches others how to respect your boundaries:
- Plan your time in THREE planes -- what you will schedule over the next month, week, and day -- to keep the big picture in mind.
- Every minute that you spend PLANNING your day saves you 3 to 5 minutes later on -- and every minute planning your week saves 5 to 15.
- Avoid multiple CALENDARS -- you're less likely to forget a meeting if you record your business and personal appointments in one place.
- If you don't need a MEETING, don't have one -- ask if there is another way (phone, e-mail) to accomplish the goal at hand.
- Leave at least 25% of your day free for the UNEXPECTED -- and leave at least 15 free minutes on either side of each appointment for delays.
- Make time for UNINTERRUPTED and priority work each day -- don't fill your entire day with appointments and meetings.
- Look at your calendar each morning and evening -- so you will never have to worry about FORGETTING an appointment.
- If you are feeling OVERLOADED, identify the 3 or 4 most important activities on your calendar and cancel everything else.
Becoming More Efficient And Productive
(So You Can Leave The Office On Time)
I meet a lot of corporate and self-employed types who claim that they'll never get ahead in business because they weren't born with the "time management gene." And while it's true that some of us are more chromosomally-blessed in this regard, productivity actually is a career skill that can be taught -- just like learning to type or write a proposal or use a computer. Unfortunately, few MBA programs offer specific classes in "identifying your true priorities" or "breaking large projects down into bite-sized chunks" or "understanding how long a task will realistically take to complete." Maybe I need to start my own university -- well, consider this the "Get Your Work/Time Shit In Order 101" short course:
- Empty all of the "to-do's" in your head onto a piece of paper -- and keep this MASTER task list close at hand so you can add items as they occur to you.
- Leave room on your DAILY task list for chores off of your master task list, scheduled appointments, and urgent items that just pop up.
- Limit your daily task list to no more than ten ITEMS you hope to complete during the day -- with no more than two large or difficult tasks.
- Create an AGENDA for your daily task list, scheduling times for completing specific activities whenever possible.
- As you look over your "to-do" list, ask yourself if each task is NECESSARY, if it has to be done by you, and could it be simplified in any way.
- If you tend to wait until the last minute to complete a task, create artificial DEADLINES to motivate yourself to finish a task early.
- Understand your work STYLE -- whether you like to work in short bursts or long stretches -- and high and low-energy periods, and schedule your day accordingly.
- Make liberal use of MEMORY joggers -- a list of things to take with you to a meeting, an alarm clock to remind you of an appointment, etc.
Preventing Unwanted Interruptions
(By Cutting Them Off At The Pass)
Pardon my language, but how much of your day is pissed away by other people interrupting your work? The phone ringing, that annoying e-mail notification dinging, folks showing up unexpectedly at your door -- there's no bigger time-waster. (Well, except for those times when you inadvertently distract yourself!) I don't care if it's a client asking a question, a co-worker in need of help with a project, or even your boss with a sudden "urgent" problem -- the most efficient use of your time is rarely for you to drop everything and deal with that issue right this exact second. Protecting your borders just takes a little advance planning. And yes, the phrase is redundant -- but I really REALLY want to get this point across:
- At work, establish OPEN house hours for visitors and reschedule any unexpected drop-ins for your open house time.
- Set up some GUIDELINES about who you are willing interrupt your work for and who you will take care of later.
- When you are interrupted, don't be afraid to ask how LONG the interruption will take -- then decide if you have time to handle it.
- When you are interrupted, ask if you need to be the one to hand the interruption -- if not, DELEGATE the job to someone else.
- When you are interrupted, ask if you need to handle the problem right then -- if not, plan to take care of it at a LATER time.
- At work, STAND up to greet people who enter your office -- that way you control the length of the interruption.
- Don't be afraid to tell people NO, shut your door, or put up a "do not disturb" sign to protect your work time -- you don't need an excuse to be too busy.
- When you are interrupted in the middle of a project, leave a MEMORY jogger -- so it will be easier to pick up where you left off.
Setting Up An Efficient And Effective Work Space
(The Key To Getting More Done)
Can you find what you need (when you need it) in your office? Or are you always searching for your stapler, pen, and scissors -- amid the stacks of crap covering your desktop, the mess filling your drawers, and the clutter burying your credenza? More importantly, how well are you able to function? Does the equipment you need live within easy reach? Do you have plenty of room to spread out the different projects you're working on? Achieving maximum productivity involves more than filing systems and calendars -- ya gotta tame your space, first! So let's explore some practical steps for implementing cardinal rule #1 -- getting organized is always (ALWAYS) a hell of a lot easier when your environment is set up correctly:
- "L" and "U" shaped desks offer the most efficient work SPACES -- offering plenty of room to maneuver on all sides of you.
- Store all of your EQUIPMENT -- phone, computer, etc. -- on one "wing" of your desk and leave the other part(s) free to spread out on while you work.
- Locate your desk so that you don't face the DOOR -- this will keep you from catching people's eye and lessen daily interruptions.
- Keep MOTION in mind -- if you are doing a lot of walking, bending, or stretching during the day, you need to rethink your space.
- Adding a HUTCH to your desk can create a ton of great storage space for books, manuals, supplies, small equipment, and other items you always need at hand.
- Avoid having too many PERSONAL items -- photos, knick-knacks, plants -- cluttering up your immediate work area.
- Make sure you have plenty of DRAWERS near your desk -- for supplies, small equipment, paper products -- whatever small items you use regularly.
- Take time each day to CLEAR your desk before leaving work -- you'll start the next day in a much better frame of mind.
Disconnecting To Get Organized
(A.K.A. Regaining Control Over Your Telephone)
Have you ever noticed the Pavlovian response most folks experience with their phones? I like to secretly dial my clients during an organizing appointment (when I've insisted that they NOT answer incoming calls) -- then sit back and watch what happens. That knee-jerk urge to jump up the second it rings, the struggle they go through when forced to send a call to voice mail, the sweat on their brow that the message notification light causes -- then the relief that washes over them as they discover how it feels to break free from this particular electronic captor. More entertaining than chiming a bell and waiting for a dog slobber! So let's talk a bit about how unplugging during work can boost your productivity, as well:
- If you are right-handed, put your phone on the LEFT side of the desk -- so you can hold the phone and take notes at the same time.
- And cell phones make things even worse -- now you can never escape the pressure. Don't feel compelled to ANSWER the phone every time it rings -- it's okay to let a call go to voice mail if you are working and don't want to be interrupted.
- Let people know, on your answering machine, exactly when you will RETURN calls -- don't leave people hanging in "voice-mail limbo."
- When leaving messages, use VOICE mail as a time-saving tool -- tell people exactly what you need, how to contact you, and the best time to reach you.
- When leaving messages with a human being, ask that person to REPEAT your message back to you to make sure they got it right.
- Ask if someone ELSE can help you, rather than leaving a message -- you may be taken care of quicker by another person.
- Respect other people's time -- gather together all the information you need to take care of a request BEFORE you return a phone call.
- Learn to use all of the FUNCTIONS on your phone -- call forwarding, do not disturb, conferencing -- to be as effective as possible at work.
Figuring Out Where To Put Those Supplies
(Other Than All Over Your Desk)
If I asked you for a black marker or a binder clip or a manila envelope, would you be able to locate one in 30 seconds or less? If not, you might need a better system for organizing your supplies! (Oh, and here's a big FYI -- throwing a lot of random pens and notepads and glue sticks into a drawer does NOT qualify as an organizational system.) Getting your office stuff in order is a simple 3-step process -- you need a way of subdividing all those little loose "miscellaneous" items into logical categories, a way of storing these fine and fabulous groupings for easy access, and a way of tracking your inventory (so you know when to buy more). If you're tired of drowning in highlighters and tape, try a few of these simple tricks:
- I have a practical question for you -- how many pencils can you actually use at any one moment in time? One -- maybe two (if you're an ambidextrous multi-tasking overachiever). So why are you keeping half the Faber-Castell factory #2 inventory in your top desk drawer? It's one thing to buy in bulk -- another thing to store in bulk. Don't waste your space hoarding SUPPLIESat your desk -- only keep what you need nearby and put the rest in storage the closet.
- Use a DRAWER tray or low baskets to keep paperclips, letter openers, staples, tape, glue, and other small supplies in order.
- You can store anything letter or legal-sized -- letterhead, folders, note pads, sheet protectors -- very easily and efficiently in STACKING trays.
- Store greeting cards, small note pads, and envelopes in VERTICAL divider racks -- found at your local office supply store.
- Follow the three-fourths RULE -- when you have gone through 3/4 of your supply of any item, it's time to buy more.
- Create a standard supply LIST of items you use regularly -- then, just run down the list and check off supplies you are low on before you head to the store.
- Insert a NOTE about 3/4 of the way through each stack of extra papers, folders, etc. reminding you that it's time to buy more of that supply.
- If you have the room, buy your supplies in BULK to save not only money but also time -- no more running out at the last minute for more paper!
Getting Rid Of The Paper Piles
(And Emptying Your In-Box)
I'm going to let you in on a few information management secrets. #1 -- your desk is meant for greater things than horizontal paper storage. #2 -- if (while excavating the stacks of unopened envelopes) you find anything that's been occupying your in-box for longer than a month, you need to seriously rethink your mail-processing methods. #3 -- deciding whether to keep a 15-year-old paystub or toss a memo from a job you don't even have anymore should never (NEVER) take more than an hour. #4 -- if you're going to label an document as a "to-do," you need to have a plan for actually doing something to it. #5 -- if you find yourself struggling with any of these issues, I'd recommend reading the following tips:
- Set up a TRASH near the spot where you tend to sort incoming paper -- and immediately toss out anything that you don't need.
- Sort your incoming paper DAILY -- and try to decide what you need to do with each piece of paper the first time you touch it.
- Flag any items that require immediate attention with a red sticker and / or put them into a folder marked URGENT.
- As you sort through your paper, divide TO-DO'S into folders according to what you have to do to them -- "to read," "to pay," "to file," etc.
- Keep paper that requires an ACTION on your part stored separately from items that you are keeping just for reference purposes.
- Set aside time each WEEK to go through your "to-do" files and take care of any action items that have accumulated.
- Set up TICKLER folders numbered 1-31 for upcoming paper "to-do's" -- file according to the day of the month on which they should be done.
- Use templates, forms, and STANDARD reporting formats -- just "fill in the blanks" -- to save time on paperwork.
Creating An Ergonomically Correct Office
(One That Won't Give You A Pain In The Neck)
How to do you feel after a day in the salt mines? (Not literally. Metaphorically. For the love of God.) If your answer involves eye-strain, leg pain, a stiff neck, a crick in your back, or carpal tunnel -- you might not be doing it right. It used to be that only those with physically active careers (hauling heavy equipment or digging ditches or swinging an axe) were likely end up hurt by their jobs. But we've reached a weird place in modern society where work-related injury is now more common for those who sit on their ass at a desk, especially behind a computer -- which puts roughly 80% of the population at risk. We're all about setting up a healthy office space, here -- so let's talk about specifics for accomplishing that goal:
- An ergonomic CHAIR will help you be more productive -- one that allows you to keep your feet flat on the floor, thighs parallel to the floor, and your back straight.
- If your chair is too tall -- meaning that your feet aren't flat on the floor -- use a FOOTREST to help you sit in proper position.
- Place everything you need regularly within arm's REACH of your desk -- no bending, stretching, or hiking across the office to get at equipment and supplies.
- Use a wrist prop or keyboard tray to position your hands properly white working at the computer -- your wrists should be FLAT as you type.
- Use a GLARE screen on the front of your computer monitor -- if the overhead light reflects back in your eyes and makes it hard to see the screen.
- Look AWAY from your monitor regularly -- look across the room or stare off into space -- to prevent eye strain.
- Position your computer MONITOR exactly at eye level -- you shouldn't have to tilt your head up or down while you work.
- Set an alarm reminding you to get up and move around every thirty MINUTES -- sitting in one position all day isn't particularly healthy.
Get your filing system in order once and for all!
- Create a filing system with broad CATEGORIES ("insurance") divided into subcategories ("auto," "life") and alphabetized within each category.
- Begin file folder headings with a NOUN rather than a verb or adjective -- "clients: current" instead of "current clients."
- Creating a file INDEX -- listing the location of each category and folder -- will make it easier to find documents when you need them.
- FINGERTIP files are those that you refer to all the time -- phone lists, school directories, catalogs -- and should be kept at your desk.
- If you have limited space, consider allowing a document storage company to store your old records in an OFF-SITE facility.
- Clip multiple-page documents together with STAPLES or a binder clip -- but avoid paper clips because they get caught on other pages.
- Mark the DISCARD date on items that will become outdated before you file them away -- then clean out expired files at least once a year.
- Print DRAFTS of reports and other documents in colored paper and the final copy in white, to avoid any confusion.
Stay organized even when you work outside of the office!
- Record any and all important INFORMATION -- directions, address, phone number, notes -- in your calendar next to the appointment.
- If you carry a lot of papers with you, keep a portable hanging file BOX in your trunk with a "miniature" version of your file system.
- Carry a portable SUPPLY box with you -- pens, stapler, paper clips -- whatever you need to do work on the road.
- If you carry any EQUIPMENT or supplies back and forth to the car, put your "stuff" in a plastic portable crate with handles and a lid.
- When traveling for business, clear up as many issues as you can before you leave town -- then DELEGATE the rest to someone else!
- If you have to travel on short notice, pre-pack an OVERNIGHT bag with essentials for a quick getaway.
- Create a travel FOLDER of paperwork you will need on your trip -- tickets, business presentations, maps, etc.
- If you use your car for work, consider the many MOBILE office products that are available to help you be efficient in your vehicle.