Clearing Office Clutter
The Oxford Canadian Dictionary defines clutter as "a crowded anduntidy collection of things" or "an untidy state." When we don'thave designated places for all our belongings, clutter is oftenthe result. Even if you have established organizational systems,you will face problems with clutter unless you have a plan tofind homes for every single article you bring into your office.Otherwise, it's too easy to set things on top of your desk,filing cabinet, or another surface "for now." All too often, "fornow" ends up becoming "forever" or at least until things reachthe point that you can no longer tolerate the clutter. If you'realready at this point, the following tips may help you get backon track.
The first thing you must do is set aside time to deal with theclutter. Many small business owners feel they are too busy to dothis, but in reality, the time you'll save once everything isorganized will more than make up for it. You might choose toblock off a day or two just to concentrate on this project, ifyour schedule allows it. If not, set aside an hour a day or acouple of hours a week and keep at it until there's no clutterleft in your office. Treat this appointment with yourself thesame way you would treat an appointment with one of your clients- don't cancel it unless you have a dire emergency, and don'tdeviate from the task at hand by taking phone calls or gettingdistracted by other work.
The best place to begin decluttering your office is with yourdesk. There is no reason to keep anything in your work area thanthe things that you are currently working on. Your currentprojects should be kept where you can access them easily, butrather than keeping them in piles on your desk, they should beorganized into clearly labeled file folders. It's very likelythat those piles of paper on your desk include information whichis out of date and can be discarded, as well as documents thatyou need to keep, but are not currently using, which can be filedin your filing cabinet.
Once your work area is clutter free, you need to go through yourfiles and discard anything you no longer need, shredding alldocuments which contain confidential information, of course.Large organizations usually have a retention schedule thatdictates how long certain types of information must be kept. Ifyou're not sure, it may be wise to consult a lawyer or accountantto determine how long certain documents must be retained by lawin your area. Items which are needed for legal or other reasons,but not referred to on a regular basis, should be put in anarchive area, such as a lower file drawer, storage room, oroffsite storage, depending on the volume of paper you have andthe space you have available.
While going through your files, be sure to pull out any documentswhich don't seem to belong in their existing file folder so youcan find a more suitable home for them.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, getting rid ofthe clutter is only half the battle. Maintenance is equallyimportant, and here are three tips to help keep clutter fromcoming back.
1. Make a practice of handling each document only once, ifpossible. When you open your mail or email, deal with itimmediately. If it's about an upcoming meeting or other event,copy the information into your planner, then get rid of it. Ifit's a quick question, answer it immediately, then discard it. Ifyou may need the information again in the future and it's notreadily available elsewhere, file it, don't just put it back inyour inbox. There will be some items that cannot be dealt withimmediately. These should be noted on your "to do" list and thedocument placed in the appropriate folder on your desk.
2. Implement a "clean desk" policy where desks must be cleared ofall paperwork at the end of each work day.
3. Set a filing schedule to prevent a backlog of unfileddocuments. You often need to refer to something you've worked onrecently, and you don't want to have to sift through piles ofpaperwork to find it. How often you need to do filing will dependon the volume of paper you keep, but the important thing is tokeep it up to date.
A tidy office is only one of the benefits of getting rid ofclutter. When your work environment is clutter-free, you'll bemore productive, because there will be fewer things to distractyou from the task at hand. You'll be less likely to forget aboutthings you're supposed to do, or to miss important events,because the information won't be buried under a pile of otherdocuments. As a result, you'll be more confident, appear morecompetent, and free up time for the types of activities that willhelp you to become successful!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janet Barclay, Organized Assistant, offers office organizing services in and around Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and virtual assistance around the globe.