Reading this at work? Stop and take a minute to assess your surroundings.
Is your area littered with stray Post-its displaying cryptic messages? Random paper scribbled with old to-do lists, blemished with questionable food crumbs and coffee stains? Or binders, calendars, and note pads stacked one on top of another smack in the center of your desk?
If so, you need help. It’s time to get your space and your thoughts organized.
Simply having a kempt workspace can increase your productivity and reduce stress. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, we spend one year of our lives looking for lost items. A full year. Take your first step toward organization by starting with the basics.
1. Designate a space for every item.
This may sound easy, and it can be at the beginning. What’s difficult is remembering to put things back in their place. Start with managing miscellaneous clutter permeating your desk. For example: Writing utensils belong in a cup/holder of some sort. I recommend a cup and not a drawer, as the former provides easy access to the writing implements; otherwise they might roll around in a drawer and accumulate in the back.
Now that your pens have a place, keep them by a pad of Post-its, close to the phone on your desk. This way, if you’re surprised with an important call, you have somewhere to write notes—or if you happen to take a message for someone who is unavailable, a Post-it does the trick.
2. Determine a space for your Post-its, too.
Use a binder, a note pad, or even a small bulletin board—somewhere your post-its can live and you can find them easily.
Use them for keeping quick to-do lists, to mark pages in a book, or as reminders. You should be able to toss them by end of day. If you write important information on a Post-it, make sure to transfer it to somewhere else; otherwise, if it gets lost, you’re out of luck.
Tackle those binders and calendars in the way—move them to a shelf. Get a calendar to pin on the wall in front of you, or a desktop version where you can jot notes down.
3. Keep an inbox and an outbox.
If you work with a lot of paper, keeping and inbox and outbox is essential to reducing clutter. The inbox will keep all the items you still have to assess and work on. The outbox will have items you have to file or pass along.
4. Display only a few items that make you happy.
Like a photo of your really cute puppy and a plant, on your desk. Too much decoration can cause distraction, too—keep it simple.
Finally, take care of the other miscellaneous clutter encroaching on your desk space that may include: lotion, snacks, mail, rubber bands and paper clips, etc.
If you have a drawer available, I recommend organizing your items into the drawer (using a space saver or organizer). If you have no desk or cabinet drawers, try using a nice box as a catchall. I have way too many different types of lotion, gum, and notebooks I place in the box to keep the top of my desk clear.
1. Keep a notebook.
It’s important to have a method to managing your thoughts, and this tip can spare you headaches if it’s used correctly.
2. Every morning start a new page in your notebook.
Add the date to the top of the page, and write your to-do list. You may already have a to-do list in the works, but I highly suggest re-writing the list every day. Your priorities may change, or the due date for an item might move up or back. If you stay consistent with dating the top of every page, you can go back in your notebook and find notes down to the exact day. Here’s a tip: If you are taking notes about a client or a job task, next to the date write what the notes are about on the top of the page.
3. Leave room for your tasks and thoughts.
Draw a line under your primary to-do list, and use this as the secondary to-do list; think of it as a waiting room for your tasks and thoughts. You accomplish more when you stop multitasking and focus on the task in front of you. If you get interrupted or you have a random thought about another project, pause to write it down in the waiting room and get back to it later.
4. Check your to-do list.
Finally, check your to-do list all the way through about an hour before work is over. That way, if you’ve missed something or you’ve spaced out on a waiting room task, you have time to work on it before the day is over.
It’s time to ditch the clutter and embrace a new, cleaner, more organized environment.
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You must want to change and must commit to keeping a tidy space. You can take a day to make your workspace neat, but if you don’t maintain the organized system, your efforts will be pointless and your desk will revert to messiness. Taking a minute to tidy things up before leaving for the day is a great way keep things organized and will help you start the next day on a high note.
Do you have any organizational tips that work well for you in an office space? Please share them in the comments.
Rachael Gray is a social media coordinator at The Abbi Agency. A version of this story originally appeared on the agency’s blog.