When you're stressed at work, it's easy to let organization slide to the bottom of your to-do list. But office clutter comes with serious consequences: A messy workspace can lead to decreased productivity, diminished creativity, and impaired work performance. Clutter can also make you feel anxious, irritable, and generally out of control -- and therefore less effective overall.
Luckily, a boost in mental clarity and productivity is available to any office worker with approximately 30 minutes to spare. Set a timer, shut out all distractions, and tackle the following tasks as quickly as possible. Make this routine a habit, and you'll improve your work performance for life.
Place similar items near each other.
Group like with like, and you'll never lose an hour searching for the binder clips again. Assign a designated space for each category of office gear, from cords to writing utensils to books on leadership. Label each of these spaces so you never again have to think about where anything should go. While you're at it, eliminate redundant equipment -- do you really need 25 pens or eight power cords? Be quick and ruthless: Scale it back to the essentials, and you'll minimize both clutter and overwhelm.
Straighten desk drawers.
Even when it's out of sight, uncategorized junk can still inhibit clarity of mind. Start by pulling everything out of your desk drawers and grouping similar items together in categories (thumb tacks, loose change, personal items, etc.). Again, move quickly and don't overthink it. Assign each category to a section of the drawer, label each section, and commit to putting things back where they belong instead of randomly dumping items into the drawers.
Tie up loose ends.
Loose wires and cables aren't just visually distracting -- they can also be a safety hazard (and nothing kills productivity faster than rushing off to the emergency room with a broken ankle). For a quick and easy fix, tuck cords into a cable organizer. Or, if you're feeling more ambitious, wrap adhesive Velcro strips around the cords and attach them to the inside of your desk.
You won't have time to completely overhaul a paper file system in 30 minutes or less, but you can set up a more efficient means of sorting papers. Start by labeling three different bins: one for incoming papers, one for paperwork that you've reviewed but still need to address, and one for anything that can be digitized and then shredded.
Digitizing files is an incredibly effective way to cut down on office clutter, so commit to scanning and shredding these documents in 20-minute increments over the next few weeks. (Add this task to your calendar to help ensure it actually gets done.)
Next, grab a stack of multicolored filing folders from the office supply closet. Assign each color to a different category (blue folders could contain client contracts, yellow folders could contain financial info, and so on).
Moving forward, whenever you've processed papers from the "new" or "to be addressed" bins, promptly place them in the correctly colored folder. This will save you precious time whenever you need to locate files in the future.
Don't forget digital clutter.
Workers can lose up to an hour a day searching for digital files. If your desktop is a mess, you may need more than 30 minutes to get it completely under control. But you can get the process started by mapping out an overarching hierarchy for folders on your computer.
Create folders for large categories (client communications, contracts, etc.) and spend a few minutes dragging-and-dropping files into the relevant folder. Then, whenever you have the time, work on creating clearly labeled sub-folders within each category.
On a related note: Take 30 seconds to set a calendar reminder to back up your digital files at least once a month. This will help protect you against the productivity annihilator that is losing all of your files at once.
Once the timer dings, you're all done -- for today. Office organization requires regular maintenance, so it's important to commit to this routine for the long haul. Set aside time on your calendar to maintain the systems you've put in place -- depending on your schedule, you might want to assign daily 15-minute cleanups, 30 minutes twice weekly, or a one-hour organization session every Friday afternoon. Experiment with a schedule that works for you, and stick to it. Your work life will be better for it.