Never Store These Four Things on Your Desk

Desk space before and after organizing
Before and After Organizing by The Time Butler

With the rise of work from home, our work surfaces have become ever more important. Storage spaces & usable spaces are two different concepts. We store items we need for use later, and we use items that we need right now. Because desk space is at a premium, make sure that your desk contains only what you need for the work at hand.

To ensure you’re using your desk space effectively, consider refraining from storing the following items on your desk.

  1. Old papers & documents. If you don’t need it, either downsize it or find another place to put it. Downsize what you can and keep what you need, just not on your desk. Documents that need to be kept can be archived into labeled banker’s boxes and stored somewhere else. Unneeded documents can be shredded, recycled or pitched. If you need more help in identifying types of paper that don’t belong on your desk, you might find last month’s post helpful. This post discusses how clutter is created when papers come to rest in a pile to manage later, rather than being integrated into the established system. 

  2. Food. Yep, we all need to eat. And snacks are great! And it’s so nice to be able to grab a bite while working. But food is better stowed in a desk drawer if it’s not perishable, or in the kitchen if it is, rather than on your work surface.

  3. An excess of knickknacks or tchotchkes. Décor can be beautiful, but not if it clogs your work surface. Keep décor to a minimum – a photo or two of family or pets, a paperweight given to you by your best friend, or a decorative holder of writing implements. Ditch the rest or store it elsewhere.

  4. Obvious non-desk items like kitchenware, clothing, books you’re not using for work, shoes, toiletries, make up, and pet supplies. If these items land on your workspace because they don’t have a spot, set up a home for them elsewhere and then use it.

Remember the basic rule: keep only what you need for the work at hand. Anything that is a distraction or hides your work needs to have a permanent place elsewhere. If you need help establishing a clutter-free workspace, contact Lisa Mark, C.P.O. to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

The Best Way to Control Paper Clutter Permanently

Before and After Organizing by The Time Butler

Last month, we examined how to set up a paper management system. Now, let’s discuss how to increase the odds that the system will continue to work long into the future.

My spouse is like the character Pig Pen in ‘Peanuts.’ Imagine if you will a man followed not by clouds of dirt and dust, but by paper. Paper is his nemesis, and he hates it. Couple this with the fact that he’s an ‘outie’ – someone who likes things out, rather than put away, and we have the perfect storm of what I’ve come to refer to as ‘the paper situation’ in the home and offices we share. Piles of paper everywhere – in the kitchen, in the bedroom he uses to WFH, and on his desk in the home office. They are organized piles, and he can find things, which is what makes the system work for him.

Although there is nothing wrong with being a piler as opposed to a filer, piling or filing in all but the most organized manner makes it very difficult to find things. When your desk contains a mix of reminders, project notes, and things to file, toss, or shred, knowing what to prioritize can be problematic, and important items can get lost.

Most paper pile or file systems fail not because the paper doesn’t have a home, but because of a lack of follow through. Paper pilers often don’t follow through when they have finished the task at hand. Whether making a phone call, engaging in research, brainstorming a new project, paying a bill, or crafting a To Do list, papers generally come to rest in a pile to manage later, rather than being integrated into the established system.

Every organizing system needs to be maintained. Without maintenance, the system itself, no matter how good, will ultimately fail. Entropy affects everything, so good maintenance is the key to setting up an effective system that lasts.

Use the “4C Process”, below, to increase the odds that your system will continue to be successful long into the future.

CALENDAR. Set aside 30-60 minutes every week for maintenance. Plunk a repeating ‘maintenance’ appointment on your calendar on a ‘quiet’ day at a quiet time.

  1. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays tend to be quieter than Mondays, when we’re attempting to catch up from the weekend, and Fridays, when we’re prepping for the weekend.
  2. Likewise, early in the morning or late afternoon/early evening tend to be quieter  than during the mid-day rush.
  3. When the reminder pops up, honor it as much as you would honor an appointment with anyone else.

CATEGORIZE.  Gather papers together and sort like with like. Make corresponding piles of the following:

  1. To Do’s, to be added to your To Do list.
  2. Financial items that need to be addressed, corralled in a labeled file or basket on your desk. Once addressed, mark these with the date paid & the reference number, and then file them.
  3. Items that need to be filed, corralled in a file or bin, and placed on top of the filing cabinet.
  4. Handwritten project notes, to be added to project management software and then discarded or filed as needed.
  5. Anything else that needs to be addressed, added to your To Do list or to project management tasks, or delegated to support personnel.

CLASSIFY.

  1. Add To Do’s to your To Do list.
  2. Update project management software with goals & tasks.
  3. Set a calendar appointment to address financial items, or delegate these to support personnel if possible.
  4. File or Pile items in the filing cabinet.

CLEANUP. The goal of the maintenance exercise is three-fold:

  1. To clear your work area of anything that doesn’t need to be there and open up the space for the things you need to focus on;
  2. To categorize items so that retrieval is easy;
  3. To ensure tracking of To Do’s, financials, project tasks & goals, and items that need to be delegated.

Whether you’re a filer or a piler, or a little bit of both, the best way to control paper is via follow through. Every time you work on a task that involves paper, ask yourself where does this paper belong? Then, when you’re finishing up your projects for the week, make time for follow through and to classify.

Taking the time to make this into a habit will save you time in the long run. It is a mind-set that will help you keep track of your task list, prioritize what is most important, increase efficiency, and decrease stress.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

How To Set Up A Paper Management System

Office before and after organizing by The Time Butler

Maintaining an organized office requires a system. Last month, we discussed ways to organize your office using SPACE and SAVE methods. Both strategies can be utilized to organize your workspace.

To maximize productivity in your office space, you’ll also need a way to manage paper. To create a custom paper management system that is effective, efficient, and streamlined, follow these six steps.

  1. Make a pile of your Action Items, and calendar time to address each one. Then honor that calendar appointment with yourself as much as you’d honor an appointment with anyone else. After you’ve addressed these, file them.

  2. Gather reference information that you use regularly. Store it in a binder, on your computer, or in an easily accessed file cabinet rather than on your desk.

  3. Create a project folder for any task that has more than 3 or 4 documents. Depending on frequency of use, this can be stored at your fingertips, on a shelf, or in the file cabinet.

  4. If you don’t need it, pitch it. Most of us keep way more than we need to keep, especially where paper is concerned. Unless the document is critically important or tax-related, when in doubt throw it out.

  5. Consider going paperless for financial statements, bills, and notifications.  These can then be downloaded and filed in your electronic filing system. And because they are not actual paper, they don’t require physical space. And if you don’t have an effective e-file system, there is always the Search feature.

  6. To make downsizing easier, keep recycle, shred, and trash bins at your fingertips. Having things within reach removes barriers to moving forward. We are less tempted to delay something if we don’t have to get up and walk across the room to do it.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

How To Maintain an Organized Office

Your office can go from this…

Clients often ask me why their office doesn’t stay organized. My response is always the same: office organization, like any other type of organization, requires upkeep. Upkeep is described as “E” in the SPACE system. “E” stands for Equalize, which is the maintenance required to keep the system working once the organizing project is complete. Like paperwork, email, calendar management, or any other task, organizing is not a one and done thing. It requires regular work to maintain.

As a reminder, SPACE stands for Sort (like with like) Purge (unneeded, unused, unwanted items), Assign a Home (figure out where items will live) Contain (prevents one group of items from negatively impacting another group of items) and E (Equalize.)

I also use the SAVE process to create organizing systems. The best organizing systems, and those that last the longest, employ Simplicity, Accessibility, and Visibility, Every day. 

Both strategies can be utilized to organize your workspace.

…to this!

So, how do you maintain an organized office?

First, SPACE your workspace. SPACE everything – the desks, the drawers, the shelves, your file system, and, if it’s used as storage, the floor.

  • Set a timer for 15-20 minutes, and then do as much as possible in the area in which you’re working.
  • Establish your decision matrix. If something is broken, out of date, no longer relevant, makes the office look cluttered (say, excessive décor), or you otherwise do not love, use, or need it, consider downsizing it.
  • But, do be aware of any industry compliance issues when downsizing. Industry compliance applies mostly to documentation but can apply to other things as well.
  • Remember that sometimes documents need to be kept even if there is not an immediate (or potentially ever) use for them.

Once an area is SPACE’d, set up Zones.

  • Determine which type of work happens where and set up zones to facilitate this.

Use the ‘Fingertip Method’.

  • Items used regularly should be within reach so you don’t have to get up to retrieve them.
  • This includes writing implements, a stapler, phone stand, scissors, tissues, places for coffee or teacup and water, Post It notes, a note pad and your To Do box. And of course your desktop or laptop, or both.
  • Items not needed on a regular basis can be stored elsewhere.

That takes care of your physical space. The final step to maintaining an organized office is organizing your virtual desktop. A cluttered desktop reduces productivity because it takes longer to find what you need. It may even render the search function less productive.

  • Use the same principles to organize your virtual desktop that you use for your physical desktop.
  • SPACE each file, downsizing items you no longer need, want, or use.
  • Then place the remaining files into organized folders.
  • Consider setting up a File Index so you know where items are located.
  • Do this in small chunks of 15-20 minutes on a regular basis to avoid build up.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

How To Create Task Zones for Office Efficiency

Many articles on creating office zones focus on zone usage for many people, such as collaboration zones to brainstorm with others, quiet zones for concentration, deep work zones for important project work, and private zones for breaks & non-business tasks.

Although it can be helpful to have these types of zones in a large office employing many people, this blog post talks about Task Zoning. Task zoning adds to productivity by establishing dedicated spaces within your own work area to get more done more effectively.

Effective Task Zones are deeply customized for each individual for optimum work performance. What works for one person may not work for another.

Below are the Task Zones that work for me.

  1. The ‘To Do’ Zone. This zone contains important work which needs to be completed. This includes both soft and hard copy items of tasks. Many of these tasks are administrative – bill pay, financials logging, tracking mileage, sending out contracts to potential clients, managing team projects, and managing email. Other examples of items in my ‘To Do’ Zone include upcoming project notes, important notes from colleagues, and a comprehensive To Do list. Because I’m only about 80% paperless, my ‘To Do’ zone includes information in hard copy along with the relevant soft copy documents, organized just enough, but not too much, according to how I use and retrieve them.

    My ‘To Do’ zone includes a hard copy of my To Do list, hard and soft copies of upcoming team projects, with dates, participating staff, and notes, and a Post It note with reminders of upcoming tasks that absolutely, positively, have to be done within the next week.

  2. The ‘Deep Work’ Zone. This zone enables the critically necessary deep work that keeps us in business – in my case, project items. While much of my work consists of items in the ‘To Do’ Zone, the ‘Deep Work’ zone is the work that makes up the most important part of business.

    My ‘Deep Work’ zone is almost completely dedicated to work projects. My work projects include Action Plans for current and potential clients, developing new products and services, implementing new business processes & creating new courses to teach colleagues and clients.

  3. The ‘When I Have Time’ or ‘Aspirational’ Zone. This zone is dedicated to long term projects that require a lot of time and effort. These are the things that should be done, and that would behoove me to do, but that require so much time and effort that I may never get to them. Because I don’t want to lose track of them, I keep them here.

    Items in my ‘Aspirational’ Zone include complex marketing strategies I’m thinking about implementing, engaging a video team to produce a marketing video of an organizing project, writing a book (who isn’t?), deep reading on new organizing topics and strategies for special populations with whom I’m not as familiar as I’d like to be, and obtaining additional industry certifications. These are all things I want to keep track of but do not currently have time to address. I may never have time to address these, but on the off chance I do, they are all in my ‘Aspirational’ Zone just waiting for my attention.

  4. The ‘Supplies’ Zone. This is a small but functional corner on the desk where often-used supplies are kept. I call these ‘fingertip’ supplies – I keep them at my fingertips so that they are available when needed. These can be replenished as necessary so you never run out.

    Examples of items kept in the ‘Supplies’ Zone: several pads of Post It notes in all colors, for on-the-spot note jotting, a large square of pull off notes with my business logo for on-the-spot bigger note jotting, pens and pencils, scissors, stapler, box of tissues, mobile phone stand for FaceTime calls, bowl of hard candies, water bottle, and my trusty laptop.

I find that dividing my desk space into these four zones aids my productivity by allowing me to track what needs to be done, and when, and with whom, whether it is a current project, administrative background work, or aspirational. You, too, can set up zones customized to your available space and how you work.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

Office Space Planning: Where to Start

Most business owners spend a LOT of time in the office. Office spaces that are easy to navigate, designed strategically, and well set up increase the chances of worker collaboration, productivity, and business success. Below are four tips to enhance office planning and setup.

  1. Strategize. Figure out where things will go, what the budget is, and who key decision makers are. Ask yourself what’s working, what tasks are difficult and why, and which tasks are most frequent. Then build your office space around these constraints and considerations. Strapped for space? Consider smaller work areas. Need more storage? Use wall space to increase storage options. Does your business scan a lot of documents? Place the scanner in an accessible area to make frequent scanning easier.

  2. Collaborate. To increase the likelihood of success and cooperation among workers, create spaces that enable people to communicate effectively. Open spaces work if there is sufficient storage and workspace.    Where possible, consider open desk areas instead of cubicles, soothing colors instead of jarring colors, and ergonomic chairs or standing desks to make it easier to work for long periods.

  3. Ascertain. Determine which tasks are the most important and most frequent and build your office space around them.  Have a lot of paperwork? Ensure there is enough space to catalog it all for easy use and retrieval. Use a lot of plans that are difficult to see on a computer screen? Ensure sufficient flat space is available to work on these. Deal with a lot of email? Have sufficient online storage and backup processes in place. Use a lot of supplies? Build in storage options to keep these tucked away but easy to get to.

  4. Reduce. Nothing is more distracting or difficult to work in than an office space filled with unused and unwanted items. Spaces that are cumbersome, overfull, and difficult to navigate detract from worker success. Don’t have a use for something? Don’t like something? Don’t have room for something? Sell it, donate it or otherwise remove it from the space.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

How to Make Virtual Organizing Work for You

Virtual organizing is done via a remote work session between organizer and client. Communication is generally via video conference platforms like Skype or Zoom and may occasionally be done via phone as well. 

With virtual organizing, clients get the same teaching, guidance, and support of a hands-on organizing appointment. Virtual organizing also enables clients to access organizers outside of their geographical area, which may increase the availability of organizing services in a busy market. Finally, because virtual organizing appointments are generally shorter than hands-on appointments, it may be possible to obtain a virtual organizing appointment sooner than a hands-on organizing appointment.

During virtual organizing, the organizer provides the guidance and support necessary to accomplish the organizing project while the client puts the plan into action. Virtual organizing is less about doing the hands-on work and more about using the organizer’s experience, education and knowledge to help the client implement the organizing systems. During COVID, virtual organizing services have skyrocketed.

To determine whether virtual organizing is right for you, ask yourself the following questions.

Continue reading “How to Make Virtual Organizing Work for You”

How To Choose The Right Organizer or Productivity Consultant: Part 1 – Client Goals

You’ve made the decision to move forward with a professional organizer and productivity consultant. Below are my top three tips to ensure that the odds of success are as high as possible when working with a productivity professional.

1. Determine your Level of Involvement

Decide how involved you, as the client, would like to be. Client involvement spans the spectrum from involved at every step of the way to only participating as needed. The level of involvement depends on the client’s wishes, and organizers who know what they’re doing can work with clients at all levels of participation.

Continue reading “How To Choose The Right Organizer or Productivity Consultant: Part 1 – Client Goals”

The Best Productivity Apps

Last month, we discussed How to Choose a Productivity App and how apps, like anything else, are only beneficial when they move us closer to our goals. Below are some of my favorites.

I’m an app minimalist. I limit apps and use only what I need to work effectively. For email, tasks, and calendar management, I like the G-suite apps. They are global (can be reached from anywhere), are easy to integrate, and the updates are (usually) seamless. I set up G-mail to integrate with Outlook so emails appear in both. I can better see the individual emails on Outlook, but I also enjoy the Google thread function for organizing and retrieval. Although I have multiple email addresses, all emails are set up to go into the same inbox. This means I only need to check one place to find everything.

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Top Time Wasters: Meetings

If you’re like most people, you’ve spent time in at least one meeting that went on and on with no apparent purpose, without an agenda, with minimal or no follow through, and without resolution. You might even have wondered why you were there at all. Certainly, there were far better uses of your time.

Meetings can be a huge time waster if not done correctly. Good meeting preparation is essential for productive meetings.

Effective meetings consist of the following:

A Tight Agenda: Ensure you have an agenda, with time limits attached to each agenda item.

Continue reading “Top Time Wasters: Meetings”