Controlling the Mess Monster

If time is money, it pays to straighten out your work space and get your job done significantly faster

By: Margot Carmichael Lester

Everyone knows the value of getting organized. Yet distractions and other duties often keep us from actually doing anything about the clutter.

“If you’re working out of your home, the personal distractions are endless,” said Bill Bliesath, a professional organizer. “And if you’re managing a small agency, the number of hats you have to wear in any given day can be overwhelming.”

“The biggest challenges to organizing are time and objectivity,” he noted. “Commit to the task by scheduling organizing time in your calendar and get a buddy to help you prioritize and purge.”

Adopt these tips and encourage your employees to do the same as the first steps to getting organized:

-- End each workday by writing a “to do” list. Just the exercise will focus your mind and provide a running start the next day.

-- Schedule time to tackle the “to dos.” The “I’ll do it later” syndrome can bog you down.

-- Take 5- to 10-minute filing breaks. The practice will get you moving and put a dent in the “to file” pile.

Too Much at Home

Does your home office reflect a professional attitude? Does it overflow into your living space? Working at home creates special organizational challenges. Space is often limited or supposed to do double duty as a guest room or dining room.

“The key is maximizing the space you have,” Bliesath noted. He suggested that an organization effort begins with your desk or whatever table you use for work purposes.

“There are few things you really need to keep on your desk and a lot of things you don’t,” Bliesath said. Like loads of framed photos in the office/spare room. Limit desktop items to essentials computer, phone, calculator, stapler, tape, paper clips and writing instruments.

“By paring it down to these essentials, you’re left with clear, uncluttered space for working.” Bliesath said.

A bigger demon may be paperwork. “If your reality is a bunch of piles,” Bliesath said, “focus on your filing cabinet.” Don’t have one? Get one.

Match your paper filing system to the one on your computer to make filing and finding easier. “Then clear a space for sorting, and work that recycling bin!” he said.

On your desk, set up three stacking letter trays labeled: “in,” “to file” and “to do.” The simple system will help you locate needed papers, keep filing under control and manage your “to dos.”

Following these simple steps will create a more efficient and less stressful home office.

Small Agency

Organizing one person is a challenge enough a small office can seem impossible. Bliesath suggests focusing on a few key areas that affect the entire agency.

“One of the most important elements of the well-organized office is the filing system,” Bliesath noted. “It can be a useful resource or a black hole.” Small businesses lose hundreds of hours of productivity from employees searching for lost or misplaced files.

First, create a universal filing system that applies to general, shared and individual files alike.

Then, declare a file day (or hour) to organize group and individual files. Review the filing system and establish some guidelines, then “purge, discard and then purge some more,” he recommends. “Let go of all those outdated, useless papers.”

When in doubt about discarding something, ask a supervisor or professional, such as an attorney or accountant, for guidance.

Similarly, items that belong in a file outside your immediate work area should be put it in a “move to new location” pile.

Another black hole may be the agency supply cabinet. Have you ever ordered supplies only to find lots of items stuffed behind something else? “A well-organized supply cabinet will save you time, money and a lot of frustration,” Bliesath said.

Despite these efforts, some people simply cannot get organized. Bliesath calls these people “Sloppy Joes” and offers some tips:

-- Give Joe some uninterrupted time to get organized.

-- Create an organization plan for Joe to follow.

-- Assign a buddy (yourself, co-worker or professional organizer) to help Joe.

-- Establish a reasonable deadline.

-- Celebrate Joe’s success to reinforce the value of an organized office. Executing these basic steps can turn your disorganized office into the cost-effective, efficient and professional space it’s meant to be.