Clearing Office Clutter
The Oxford Canadian Dictionary defines clutter as "a crowded and
untidy collection of things" or "an untidy state." When we don't
have designated places for all our belongings, clutter is often
the result. Even if you have established organizational systems,
you will face problems with clutter unless you have a plan to
find homes for every single article you bring into your office.
Otherwise, it's too easy to set things on top of your desk,
filing cabinet, or another surface "for now." All too often, "for
now" ends up becoming "forever" or at least until things reach
the point that you can no longer tolerate the clutter. If you're
already at this point, the following tips may help you get back
The first thing you must do is set aside time to deal with the
clutter. Many small business owners feel they are too busy to do
this, but in reality, the time you'll save once everything is
organized will more than make up for it. You might choose to
block off a day or two just to concentrate on this project, if
your schedule allows it. If not, set aside an hour a day or a
couple of hours a week and keep at it until there's no clutter
left in your office. Treat this appointment with yourself the
same way you would treat an appointment with one of your clients
- don't cancel it unless you have a dire emergency, and don't
deviate from the task at hand by taking phone calls or getting
distracted by other work.
The best place to begin decluttering your office is with your
desk. There is no reason to keep anything in your work area than
the things that you are currently working on. Your current
projects should be kept where you can access them easily, but
rather than keeping them in piles on your desk, they should be
organized into clearly labeled file folders. It's very likely
that those piles of paper on your desk include information which
is out of date and can be discarded, as well as documents that
you need to keep, but are not currently using, which can be filed
in your filing cabinet.
Once your work area is clutter free, you need to go through your
files and discard anything you no longer need, shredding all
documents which contain confidential information, of course.
Large organizations usually have a retention schedule that
dictates how long certain types of information must be kept. If
you're not sure, it may be wise to consult a lawyer or accountant
to determine how long certain documents must be retained by law
in your area. Items which are needed for legal or other reasons,
but not referred to on a regular basis, should be put in an
archive area, such as a lower file drawer, storage room, or
offsite storage, depending on the volume of paper you have and
the space you have available.
While going through your files, be sure to pull out any documents
which don't seem to belong in their existing file folder so you
can find a more suitable home for them.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, getting rid of
the clutter is only half the battle. Maintenance is equally
important, and here are three tips to help keep clutter from
1. Make a practice of handling each document only once, if
possible. When you open your mail or email, deal with it
immediately. If it's about an upcoming meeting or other event,
copy the information into your planner, then get rid of it. If
it's a quick question, answer it immediately, then discard it. If
you may need the information again in the future and it's not
readily available elsewhere, file it, don't just put it back in
your inbox. There will be some items that cannot be dealt with
immediately. These should be noted on your "to do" list and the
document placed in the appropriate folder on your desk.
2. Implement a "clean desk" policy where desks must be cleared of
all paperwork at the end of each work day.
3. Set a filing schedule to prevent a backlog of unfiled
documents. You often need to refer to something you've worked on
recently, and you don't want to have to sift through piles of
paperwork to find it. How often you need to do filing will depend
on the volume of paper you keep, but the important thing is to
keep it up to date.
A tidy office is only one of the benefits of getting rid of
clutter. When your work environment is clutter-free, you'll be
more productive, because there will be fewer things to distract
you from the task at hand. You'll be less likely to forget about
things you're supposed to do, or to miss important events,
because the information won't be buried under a pile of other
documents. As a result, you'll be more confident, appear more
competent, and free up time for the types of activities that will
help you to become successful!
About the Author
Janet Barclay, Organized Assistant, offers office organizing
services in and around Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and virtual
assistance around the globe.
Visit http://www.organizedassistant.com for more information and
additional resources to help you organize your office.