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 If something is broken, out of date, no longer relevant, makes the office look cluttered (say, excessive décor), or you otherwise do not love, use, or need it, consider downsizing it.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.

Locating Files Stored Off-Site

In a recent blog post, we discussed where to store your paper files, including archive files. In some industries, records retention requirements – and the resulting high paper volume – necessitate off-site storage. When storing files offsite, it’s critical to know which files are where so they can be located as needed with a minimum of fuss. This blog post discusses how to determine what to store offsite as well as how to retrieve easily.

1. Decide how you want to group your files. This could be alphabetically, numerically by client number, or chronologically by service date. Your choice will be informed by industry guidelines, your onsite record-keeping system, and how frequently you purge the archives.

2. To make location of archived files easier, create file indices for your archives. Include the following on the file indices:

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Where to Store Paper Files

The final step in our Paper File Management series is how to decide where to store your files. Storage depends on a number of considerations: frequency of access, compliance requirements, the size of the files, available storage, and the number of people who must access the files.

Action: Items that require an action, such as bills to pay, phone call notes, research paperwork, or information on making a purchase need to go in your Active Files. Active Files are also known as Tickler Files, because they ‘tickle’ your brain to remember that there is an action associated with them. Choose your most convenient location for your Active Files since you will be accessing them on a regular basis.

Location Options: Action Files can be stored in a number of places: a rolling cart next to your desk, in nearby cubbies or on your desktop. Make sure all labels are visible as these files will be the backbone of your daily tasks.

Reference files are files that might need to be accessed regularly. Frequency of access is determined by type of industry and whether or not paper files are still the accepted standard. When deciding where to store Reference Files, ask yourself:

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3 Steps to Reduce Paper

There is little, if anything, more stressful than walking into your office and seeing a mountain of paper. Reducing the volume of paper will certainly help. Below are strategies to help reduce that mountain into a smaller, more manageable, system.  

1. Start with a general sort. Resist the temptation to act on anything you touch. Make decisions as quickly as possible. Sort into:

Action: Items that require an action, such as making a phone call, doing research, sending an email or making a purchase. If like most of us, you have a stack of bills to pay, create a separate pile for these, using one large category labeled ‘To Pay.’

File:  Items to access later or items that you need to keep that have no pending action steps.

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