Organizing an office is one of my favorite tasks, but most of my clients dread it. I have yet to meet the person who greets me with an ebullient, “I can’t wait to start filing!”
Paper (tedious, numbing paper) has always been the office bugaboo, but now digital files (tedious, numbing digital files) have joined the party to make organizing the office a sometimes overwhelming task. Everybody wants to know: Where do you start?
Many of my clients are tempted to get into the drawers and the old files right away. This is not the way to go — if you have a mess on the floor and the desktops, adding stuff that’s been hidden in drawers and file cabinets will create further chaos. Additionally, starting with computer organizing doesn’t give you the bang for your buck because even after several hours of hard work, the space surrounding you will still look the same.
So start by clearing the floor. If you do nothing but clear the floor and make decisions about the stuff that’s piled up there, you will have raised the level of order in the room quite a bit. It’s amazing how much energy shifts in a space when the floor is clear.
I like to take the stuff into another, saner room to sort through, rather than doing it in the office. If the dining room table is clear, sort there. Have your trash and recycle bags (many of them) ready. If the dining room table is not available, try a conference table, a bed, or a coffee table. Work on the floor if your knees can take it.
Make files as you go. I use hanging files for anything that is worth filing. If a file contains only one piece of paper, that usually means that it belongs in a larger category. For example, you may not need a file called “Bedside Lamps” and can just make a general “Lighting” file. Use Post-its to label your files until your categories become clear. Don’t rush to use your labeler. Labeling should be the last step when you are creating your file system.
After you’ve cleared the floor, move to other horizontal surfaces: the desk, shelves, windowsills, table tops, etc. Go through papers and objects and find homes for everything. Reconsider the books you are saving — almost all reference books are unnecessary to keep because most information is quickly and easily available online. What you keep depends on how much room you have.
I don’t like a lot of knick-knacks and personal items in a work space. One or two inspirational items, like a photo or small art piece can help with creativity and productivity, but clutter is distracting. A clean, fairly monochromatic work space tends to keep me focused, and my clients tend to crave and request that sort of environment.
Once the surfaces are clear, get into the drawers. Drawer dividers, such as Rubbermaid’s white plastic ones that fit together or bamboo dividers available at the Container Store, really help to keep desk drawers organized.
Keep a minimum of supplies in the desk drawers and store overflow in a larger storage cupboard or closet. You will want pens, pencils, a stapler and staples, paper clips, scissors and anything else you use regularly right there in your desk drawer. You shouldn’t have to get up to fetch these small supplies.
Now is the time to go through your old files and ditch anything that you no longer refer to or need to keep. Make fresh new labels for the remaining files. I like to have my file folders all match, so I use the good old army green hanging files that you can find anywhere. I never color code files — it is an added layer of upkeep that doesn’t pay off at all.
Last, consider all of your senses when organizing. Do you have adequate lighting? Is your chair comfortable, the desk the right height, the monitor and keyboard the right height? Are there annoying sounds or smells or could you add a pleasant aroma and some music? Do you have a tasty treat handy so you don’t have to leave your desk if you get hungry or thirsty? A positive, productive work environment involves the whole body, so make it work!