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.

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.

Continue reading “3 Steps to Reduce Paper”