Small Business Help

Clean out all that junk in your trunk, or desk if you will

Joseph Patterson | November 4, 2008

No really, I’ve got it….right…over…ummm….here.  Or no?  Perhaps over on the other stack of notes.  A pen?  Sure, I’ve got one right here in my…er…I think Jim has a pen.

Any of this sound even remotely familiar?  If you’re like me (prior to owning a smartphone) you’ve got post it notes holding some of your best ideas, phone numbers, or reminders, cables from three different digital cameras coiled up on the corner, a usb hub running lines here and there, 3 different external harddrives, stacks of half read/half coffee stained magazine articles about last weeks/months/years latest tech innovations, 2 unused, and 1 half full coffee cups, a moleskin , and business card upon business card rubber banded together in no particular order.

Now let’s fast forward to two weekends ago when I took a trip out to my local Ikea and began ‘project zen’.  I began this as a small experiment in cleanliness to see if it would actually make any difference in my productivity, and low and behold – it has!  Not only will having a clean desktop help you find things in a snap, but it’ll also provide you with the necessary palette to stretch your creative legs.

Before we being, let’s get this out of the way: a messy desk is NOT a sign of productivity, but rather, disorganization.  Disorganization can lead to mistakes, sometimes costly.

Storage, Storage, Storage

If you’ve got a messy desk as it is right now, let’s start by taking inventory.  Move all the ‘essentials’ off the desk, and don’t forget those drawers as well.  In my case this consisted of:

  • Laptop
  • Speakers and volume control
  • NuLooq controller
  • Wireless mouse and base station
  • 7 port USB hub
  • 3 external HDD’s
  • 13 assorted cables connecting everything together

Once you’ve removed the necessities off the desk, I recommend clearing a large area on the floor and start piling.  Remove articles one at a time making 3 piles: 1 pile of ‘must keeps’ 1 pile of ‘hmm…maybes’ and 1 pile of ‘I really still have this?’  Do not skip a single piece of paper, as we’ll soon find room for it all.  Before we even head to the sort, have a glance back at that glossy desktop.  Remember that?  It probably hasn’t looked like that since your first day.  Let’s get it back to this ultimate state of zen.

Now would be the time to raid the office supply closet.  Certainly, there’s bound to be some folders in there, and we’re going to need quite a few, so go grab ‘em while they’re hot.  If you’ve got a colored folder assortment, take as many different colors as possible.

Just to be sure, it’s also a good time to flip through that ‘I really still have this?’ pile, and make sure you’re not tossing out the next formula to cure the common cold.  This second sort shouldn’t be as exhaustive as the first, just make sure it can really go.  Once sorted…pitch it.

Great, we’ve moved on down the list and now have the ‘OMG, there’s no way I can part with this’ pile, and the ‘I might need this someday’ pile.  Now’s the time where we’re going to start thinking about storage options.  In my case, I ended up with a rather manageable ‘no I need this’ pile, and a somewhat R2D2 sized ‘no no no, don’t toss that’ pile.  The ‘er um’ pile is going to be headed for said storage options.  If you’ve got a massive pile, you might want to start considering actual furniture options.  This may or may not be an option in your office.  In my case, I managed to rearrange one of the bookcases in the living room to free up three shelves on a smaller bookcase in the office.

File it buddy

Here’s where those folders are going to come in might handy.  Based on the size of this ‘maybe’ pile, I passed on the colored folders and made a trip to the local Staples at lunch and grabbed 10 ring binders, 3 in Red, 3 in green, 3 in blue, and 1 in yellow.  Having a varied assortment of colors helps to separate this pile into a related filing system, while the yellow folder serves as an odd man out for anything that simply won’t fit logically with the others.  Break that pile down into manageable chunks and start filing it away.  The alternative option is to digitize as much as possible.  I personally spent about an hour and a half entering my collected business cards into my address book.  Yes, this will take a while, but you’ll never lose a number ever again.  In my case this process took just under three hours, but I also gained 3 feet of desk space, and 33.3% peace of mind from a clean glossy surface starting back at me.

Now for the ‘must have’ pile.  This one is relatively easy.  These are things that you’re going to need on a regular basis.  This is where those desk drawers are going to come in handy.  Break that pile down into related objects.  Periodicals that you simply can’t part with deserve the back portion of a lower drawer, while notes about last weeks meeting should be in the front of a top drawer.  Remember, the idea is to create a clutter free, yet useful and organized desk.  Grab a few more of those folders and file away pertinent papers or notes in an easy to get at location in a top drawer of your desk.  Also create an ‘Action’ folder with any to-dos, phone calls that need to be made, articles to read on the train home, etc..  But – be sure to give this folder a weekly once over to make sure that all items are accounted for.  Actions that have been completed should be thrown out, or filed in a ‘Done’ folder, which can then be purged at the end of the month.

Rinse and repeat

As hard as I try, there’s bound to be a small assortment of objects that accumulate throughout the day.  At days end, take a few minutes to repeat the entire process.  Obviously this time around will take much less time.

Stand back and admire

There it is young grasshopper, your own piece of clean, organized, zen bliss also know as your workspace.  If you want to go the extra mile, have a look at some cable catchers that you might be able to install under the desk.  In my case, I was able to route my external HDD drive cables through a hole in the top of the desk, and installed a cable catcher that is also now home to my USB hub, thereby giving me additional desktop real estate, AND improved productivity nirvana.

Leaving things on your desktop and simply piling them is a sign of procrastination, certainly an anti-GTD philosophy.  Will your desk stay like this?  Probably not.  Obtaining a clean and organized desktop is simply learning a new habit; one you’ll probably slip on a few times.  Fear not, just repeat the process again.  Over time your filing, trashing, and ‘I might need this eventually’ system will take on a life of it’s own, and you’ll soon find yourself saying – how did I know where everything was before I did this – a habit you’ll find hard to break.

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