Save Time: Tidy Your Desk!

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Yesterday I had a clear out at work and took home three pairs of shoes that were in my office drawer and tucked under my desk. After all, it’s practically winter now and those strappy linen heels are not going to cut it in the persistent rain. It got me thinking about tidying up in general, so today I’m bringing you a guest post from Nicolas Soergel, CEO of the Japanese subsidiary of T-Systems (a Deutsche Telekom group company) – and it’s all about cleaning up.

In today’s world many of us spend much of our time at work, at a desk. And there’s a lot of debate going around as to whether a clean desk enhances productivity, or not. Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, one thing is certain – a clean desk is the hallmark of an organized person.

So if for no other reason than it makes you feel (and look more productive), apply these ten simple rules to quickly establish and maintain a clean desk.

1. Have an inbox and an outbox

Organize the document traffic on your desk by placing all new items into your inbox and keeping them there, until you are ready to start working on them.

2. Clean your desk everyday

Reduce the maintenance effort on your desk by making cleaning it a daily end of day exercise, rather than a once per week or month event. Another benefit is that you will enjoy a clean desk every morning when you arrive at work.

3. Don’t use sticky notes

Post-its are a great invention. But when overused and scattered all over your work place, you run the risk of overlooking the item or losing it. Instead keep a notepad on your desk, where you can input all notes and reminders.

Then from time to time during the day, go through the notes and update your to-do list, striking them out as you complete them. If you really can’t live without post-its, use the electronic version available on your computer.

4. Don’t collect newspapers and magazines

A lot of piles I’ve seen in other people’s offices are made of magazines and newspapers they plan on reading latter. In fact the height of these piles often correlates with the feeling of desperation from thinking of getting through all that stuff. If you see an article you want to read later, take out or copy the page and don’t keep the entire magazine or newspaper.

5. Take your books home

Many people keep a large number of private books on display in their office. Much of the time, these are for display, but never really used. Go through the books you have on your desk and move the ones you don’t use to a bookshelf, donate them to a library, or take them home.

6. Handle each document once only

A major source of documents cluttering up your desk, is starting something and then not finishing it. When you work on document, try and process it to done, so that you can move it to the outbox, filing or delegated area, rather than sticking it back into the ‘to do’ pile.

7. Reduce the number of pens

Did you ever compare the number of pens in and on your desk with the number of pens you really use on a daily basis? Throw away all the pens you don’t need or don’t like and keep your 2 or 3 favorite ones.

The same accounts for markers – in general two or maximum three colors are sufficient.

8. Staple documents, don’t clip them

Documents that belong together should be stapled, rather than clipped. The problem with paper clips is that they can come loose and you will have to spend time sorting papers a second time. Buy a high quality or electric stapler and keep it on your desktop.

9. Don’t store files for others

If you are storing materials or files that other people have to access frequently, move them to another place, other than your desk.

10. Do this for four weeks

Research shows that it takes about a month to make something a habit. So practice these tips everyday for four weeks and keeping your desk clean will take no time at all. In the end, you may wonder how you ever got along with a messy desk in the first place.

About the author: Nicolas Soergel is the author of Happy About An Extra Hour Every Day. As the CEO of a multi-national corporation, had the opportunity to interview successful executives all over the world about how they manage their time. His book helps readers save time negotiating various aspects of their lives, including working, travelling, and housekeeping.

For more quick tips about being productive at work, check out my own book, Shortcuts to Success: Managing Projects in the Real World.