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Organization

Get Organized: What Can it Hurt?

Do you find yourself shuffling through stacks of papers on your desk in search of a document you were holding only a moment ago? Are you at a loss to find a place to put all the memos, reports and correspondence that comes your way? And do you ever wonder where you filed that important letter? Now is the time to get organized. Here is how to get started.

Divide Work Areas

Start with a plan to put your office in shape. Divide your work area into sections: your primary desk, your bookcase, credenza, second desk or computer work station, and your files. Organize one area at a time. Decide what information, materials and supplies you use most frequently. Those should be closest to you, while less-used items can be stored elsewhere. Break the cleaning and organizing project into steps that easily fit in with your work schedule.

Throw out as much as possible. Materials to toss include outdated versions of manuals and catalogs, extra copies of documents, information you never use and duplicates of information you have stored electronically. If you use reference manuals infrequently, send them to a central resource area for your work unit. Move information you do not need now but that retains historical value to a central storage area. Be ruthless about making save and toss decisions.

Throw it out if:

  • it is a duplicate;

  • you have an electronic copy and there is no policy requiring you to keep a hard copy

  • it is no longer relevant;

  • the info is readily available elsewhere; or

  • you do not have time to read it.


Group Into Categories

Organize the remaining items. Group together items that fall into broad categories, such as reference manuals, company information, vendor catalogs and reports. This will enable you to go to one shelf and quickly find related items.

Sort your files by use. If you touch them every three to four weeks, they can remain. If you use them less, banish them to your unit's central filing system. Keep in mind that a study by Stanford University found that 87 percent of filed paper is never looked at again.

Label each file with a broad heading that covers all the papers inside. When you find more than one file with related information and if it will not be too cumbersome, place all the materials into one folder. Use nouns for file headings. For example; mailing list, budget, newsletters, printing. These are broad categories that allow for flexibility. Avoid starting a label with an adjective (the, or, an)-or with a number. When trying to retrieve a document you will think first of what it concerns, not the date it took place.

Consider frequency of use. Anything that stays on your desk must be used regularly. Place knickknacks, family photos, clocks and souvenirs on a shelf or side table instead of your desk, where they take up valuable space and create a visual distraction. Limit personal items such as toiletries, a spare pair of shoes or an umbrella to one special drawer. Such items as a calendar, paper clips, stapler, pens and pencils can also go into a drawer. By keeping the desk surface as free of clutter as possible, you lessen the probability of losing or misplacing papers and make it easier to focus on high-priority items.

Declare War on Paper

Launch your attack on paper by going through the stacks and sort into five categories: immediate action, low priority, reading material, to file, or to discard.

With each piece of paper, ask, "What's the worst thing that could happen if I threw this away?" Unless the outcome is critical, toss it! Keep the "immediate action" stack on your desk in front of you. Put all else in appropriately labeled files or with related materials.

Develop Good Habits

  • Clear your "In-Box" at least once a day.

  • Decide on what to do with each piece of paper the first time you touch it and put it away immediately.

  • When unsure about a document ask, "What would I do if it were one week before vacation?" Act accordingly.

  • When taking notes, write information on the correct document the first time, not on little pieces of paper, which are easily lost.

  • Clear your desk at the end of each day, no matter what.



Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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