The axiom that work expands to fill the time available can be applied equally well to storage: papers, files, and miscellaneous clutter expand to fill all available space. A messy desk and chaotic filing system waste time and siphon productivity—and sanity. Once you’ve worked your way through this checklist, you’ll have a workspace that makes you look forward to getting down to business every day, whether in your study at home or at the office.
1. Take a deep breath. If you’re starting out with an intimidating pile of “stuff” on and around your desk, don’t despair. Take a deep breath and devote a small amount of time—half an hour—daily to sifting through it. If you do a little organizing each day, you will reach the bottom of the stack!
2. Ask questions. As you go through your stacks of paper, piles of files, mountains of magazines, etc., ask yourself: Do I need this? Why? What happens to it next? Where will I look for it when I want it? Don’t ask “where should I put it?” Your organizing system is only as good as your ability to remember where you put things!
3. Categorize paperwork. Organizing guru Barbara Hemphill advises separating the papers you keep into either “action” (you must do something about it) or “reference” (you’ll be consulting it for information from time to time).
4. Use two trash cans. If you keep papers because you aren’t sure whether or not you’ll need them again, institute a two-step trash system. Use a small container for papers and other items that are clearly trash. Use a large wastebasket for anything you’re not entirely sure about tossing. Empty it only every few weeks so you can rescue papers you later decide you need.
5. Clear your desktop. Reserve the surface of your desk for items you use daily. Your in-out box, Rolodex, computer, diskette file, calendar, message pad, and anything else that’s part of your daily routine belong there. Supplies you only reach for occasionally (stapler, extra pens, writing paper, file labels, etc.) should be stored in your desk drawer where they will be easy to reach, but not in the way.
6. Purge desk drawers. Remove anything from your desk that you use less than once a week and put these items, along with spare supplies, in a cabinet, credenza, or storage closet.
7. Put files away. Try to keep only one project at a time on your desk. When you finish with a file, put it away, even if you’ll need it later. This habit clears your workspace and your mind for the task ahead.
8. Shelve reference material. Put a shelf over your desk for reference books and manuals you reach for frequently. This way they’re always at hand, but never in the way.
9. Conduct regular cleansing rituals. The only way to maintain the organization you worked so hard to achieve is to turn your “sort and trash” exercise into a weekly ritual. Set aside time to do this regularly so you’ll never have to confront an overwhelming mess again