by Sharon Florentine

8 Tips to Organize Your Office (and Yourself) for Better Productivity

Nov 26, 20137 mins
IT GovernanceIT LeadershipIT Strategy

If your workspace is in chaos, you could be losing productivity and your job performance will likely suffer. These eight tips can help you keep it all together and get the most out of each hour of the day.

Do you spend more time looking for documents, supplies, emails or your mobile phone charger than you do working? If so, you’re losing valuable productivity. However, the good news is getting back on track requires only a little planning, commitment and consistency.

These eight office organization tips culled from the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and Simplify Me Now can help you transform your workspace from stressful to serene, and help boost your productivity by making it easy to find files, documents, supplies, and keep up with ongoing projects and deadlines.

1. Purge Your Workspace

Let’s face it. If you’re reading this, you’re probably struggling to control the chaos that is your workspace. Where to begin?

According to NAPO, the first step is to get rid of the unnecessary stuff taking up your valuable office space. Go through those stacks of papers and get rid of duplicates. Clean out your desk drawers and filing cabinets and throw out (or recycle) anything you haven’t used in six months.

When you’re left with only necessary items and have removed excess clutter, you can more easily organize what’s left.

2. Rearrange Your Office

Next, evaluate the furniture layout in your newly purged space based on how you work. If you have to get up every time you need to throw something away or replace a file, your desktop and your floor can easily become your trash can/file storage, NAPO says. Arrange furniture, files, and trash receptacles so that they’re easy and quick to access.

3. Organize Your Desktop

Keep only supplies and gadgets you need on a daily basis on your desktop, and keep them within easy reach. In today’s digital world, you probably don’t need to keep an overflowing cup of pens and pencils or bottles of white-out, according to NAPO, but your computer, phone, a few pens, a notepad and a stapler should be within arm’s reach.

Patty Kreamer, a certified organizer coach, certified professional organizer, author, speaker and president of Kreamer Connect, says to think of it like your circles of friends.

The items you use most should be within reach your friends. The items you use less often (monthly or periodically) should be near, but you should have to get up to access them — your acquaintances. The items you rarely or never use, but that you must keep, should be out of your office altogether — strangers,” she says.

Simplify Me Now suggests creating a paper workflow system for any incoming documents. An inbox is for items that haven’t yet been reviewed, an in-process box is for items you’re working on, and your filing system (see the next tip) or trash receptacles will take care of items as you finish them.

Be careful not to look at documents and then place them back on your desk. Make a decision for action, and then follow through. Of course, when this isn’t immediately possible, Kreamer says, “think through to the next step and put the document there. It’s not where you put it but where you will look for it,” she says.

4. Develop a Filing System

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to developing a filing system, as long as it matches the way you work and can be easily maintained, says Kreamer. Depending on your personal preference, you can file alphabetically, by project, by client, or some other method that works for you.

NAPO suggests using the same method for electronic document filing as you do for paper. Regularly sort, file and purge electronic and hard copy documents to keep clutter from piling up.

A master list (index) of file names can help avoid creating duplicates when you’re adding new files and to help maintain organization for new files, clients, and projects. And it’s a great tool for others to use in your absence, Kreamer says. No more ‘where’s that file?’ phone calls to interrupt your vacation.

Keep the most recent documents at the front of the file for ready access, and make sure to check your company’s records-retention policy to ensure you’re not throwing out vital records. Archive older records in bank boxes, or invest in a digital scanner to store documents electronically.

5. Time Management

Whether you’re still using a notebook and pen, PC software or an app on your smartphone, keeping a running to-do list can make sure that you’re on schedule and that appointments and deadlines don’t fall through the cracks, says NAPO.

Clear at least an hour each work day to focus on projects and action items, and NAPO suggests allocating twice as long to each task as you initially estimate to account for interruptions and follow-up. Kreamer suggests tracking your time for a week to get a better sense of how long certain tasks take before you begin scheduling this way.

“And, if you’re using a smartphone or electronic tool, make sure that it syncs,” Kreamer says. “There is nothing more useless than a Droid or iPhone that doesn’t ‘talk to’ your computer calendar. The technology is so simple yet so many ignore it,” she says.

Breaking up large projects into smaller steps and scheduling time in the day to work through each can make short work of large assignments. But you have to schedule, she says.

“Surprisingly, the most neglected tool in time management is the calendar. I’ve spoken to hundreds of audiences and worked with countless clients in their office space and planning is not a major part of their day. The majority of people who do plan, plan only for meetings and appointments. They do not schedule time for the work to be done in between. They create a to-do list on paper or in their head and never plan to do it. Thus, the to-do list becomes an avoidance list,” Kreamer says.

6. Communicate on a Schedule

Schedule time on your to-do list each day to deal with emails and return phone calls. NAPO suggests doing this once in the morning and once each afternoon for greater efficiency.

“Set a timer for 10 or 15 minute increments and do little sprints to get things done. We all know that the most effective time is 15 minutes before you have to walk out the door for a meeting or appointment,” Kreamer says. “That’s called a deadline — a bunch of 10-15 minute deadlines back-to-back can yield amazing results.”

Write an agenda for each phone call so you don’t forget important points, and, if you have to leave a message, outline exactly the response you need so others can get you exactly the information or action you need to complete your task.

7. Organize Digitally

Being electronically organized is just as important as being physically organized, says NAPO. Create different folders and subfolders in your email inbox for each client and project, so when new emails arrive, you can quickly act on and file communications. That way, when a new email comes in you can act on it, then file it in its appropriate e-folder.

“If you have a backlog of emails in your inbox, create folders for each year, and drag all emails from each year to their respective folder. Going forward, don’t allow things to stay in your Inbox unless they require action,” Kreamer says. “Either Delete it, forward it or file it. An email inbox should only house emails that require action. It’s not a storage unit.”

Digital document storage should be set up to mirror your physical filing system, with folders and subfolders to store records and documents. For archived materials, a cloud-based storage provider can be a great way to store completed projects or files you don’t need every day.

Finally, Kreamer says, minimize distractions. “Turn off all email notifications: the sound, envelope icon in the notification area, the mouse cursor change, and especially the ‘New Email’ Desktop Alert that fades in and out,” she says. “Since you’ve set up specific times to check and respond to email, you won’t need them. You won’t believe how much time you’ll save!” she says.

8. Ritualize Your Work Day

Organization isn’t a one-and-done proposition; you must keep up with the influx of documents, files, projects and communications. When you’re done working for the day, devote about 15 minutes to update your to-do list, file completed projects and replace in-progress items in their proper place. That makes for a clean, fresh, organized start when you arrive at work the next morning.