Nothing can derail a workday faster than misplacing a critical document right before a big meeting. And here’s the sour cherry on top of that frustrating work moment: messy offices provoke more than short-term stresses.
Studies find a disorganized office space can negatively impact both productivity and motivation. That’s partly because for most people, clutter makes it harder to concentrate and process information. A chaotic workspace can also be a source of irritability, which further inhibits focus.
Messy workspaces can also affect a company’s bottom line. One survey found that the average worker spends up to two weeks a year searching for lost or misplaced items in the office, which amounts to serious losses both in terms of employees’ time and company finances.
As if that wasn’t enough, the level of organization in your office also makes a statement to coworkers and employers—not always in a good way. One survey found that more than 50 percent of Americans judge their coworkers by the cleanliness of their workspaces, with harsh assumptions made about people who allow messes to pile up.
In contrast, an orderly office can make us feel more focused and productive, and it sends a positive message to other people about the way we conduct business. Avoid the pitfalls of disorganization—and take control of your workspace—by implementing the tips below.
How to Organize Your Office for Good
Start with a purge
You can’t organize a workspace until you know what’s in it. Set aside an afternoon (or, depending on the level of clutter, a whole day) to take stock of everything. Create a trash/recycle pile, a donate pile and a “needs to be dealt with” pile. Then cover one section of the office at a time.
Be ruthless—if you haven’t used something in months, you probably don’t need it. Once you have a handle on everything in the space (and get rid of the things that don’t belong), it’s time to organize in earnest.
Group like with like
Start the organization process by grouping similar items together—for example, designate a spot for bills, as well as office supplies including binder clips, cords and writing utensils. That way, you won’t have to wonder where to put new arrivals or where you stored those extra pens; they’ll always be in the same place.
Keep these areas neat; don’t just make piles in each corner of the office. No matter how detailed your categorization, be sure to label spaces, bins and folders so there’s no question about what goes where.
Keep flat surfaces free and clear
The top of the desk should be pared down to the essentials—your monitor, keyboard, phone, drinking glass, planner , desktop organizer and a lamp. Stock other supplies in desk drawers, in a filing cabinet or on bookshelves. Keep the floor clear by neatly hanging bags and coats from hooks on the wall or back of the door.
If you work in tight quarters (such as a cubicle), utilize vertical space to stay organized. Hang wall pockets and file sorters from doors and walls to keep flat surfaces clear. And remember: in cubicles especially, minimalism is key.
Organize desk drawers
Instead of dumping loose office supplies, your keys and wallet into a desk drawer, take the time to categorize supplies (writing utensils, paper and binder clips, thumb tacks) and neatly separate using small containers and color code labels.
Also designate one drawer for personal items. Place keys, sunglasses, wallets and other personal items into this drawer in the morning and then take them home at the end of each day. By consistently putting supplies in the same place, you can diminish the chances of having an “Oh no, where did I put the _____?” moment.
Get papers under control
While many offices use less paper than they did years ago (thank you, computers!), it’s common to rely on paper for specific tasks or projects, and all those sheets can pile up quickly. Keep a lid on it by developing an organizational system to address paperwork at all its stages.
Go digital. In general, it’s not necessary to hold onto papers when the same information could be stored digitally. Regularly review hard copies and digitize data when appropriate. Then shred or recycle the paper versions. Cutting down on archived papers saves a ton of physical space, making this one of the most effective de-cluttering tips for any office worker.
Designate a bin for new papers (items you haven’t looked at yet, but will need to go through eventually). Anyone who brings paperwork to your office can put incoming items in this tray.
Set aside a space for unprocessed papers including memos, receipts or bills you’ve already looked at and that still need to be addressed. (A bin near your desk is a good option.) This bin can function as a to-do list—you know you need to deal with these papers in the near future. You can arrange papers by priority level or categorize them by the actions you need to take such as file, shred, scan and mail.
Create a reading folder—a file or bin to store articles or documents you would like to read but aren’t essential to your daily workflow.
For bills, consider purchasing an accordion file with 12 pockets, and assign one pocket for every month. This way you’ll be able to find papers quickly if you ever need to review past charges or payments.
Stay two steps ahead of yourself by creating a meeting bin or folder—a designated space to store documents that you may want to refer to or share during meetings. This small tip can seriously cut down on pre-meeting panic, since everything you might want will already be in one place.
To prevent the accumulation of masses of paper over time, label all files with an expiration date. (For example, credit-card statements can be shredded after one year.) Set aside time each year to shred all “expired” documents.
Whether you implement some or all of the steps above, be sure to clearly label all bins and files (both hard copy and digital). And—perhaps the most important tip of all—make sure to dedicate 10 to 15 minutes each day to sorting and taking action on the papers in each bin so the piles never become overwhelming and work doesn’t slip through the cracks.
Practice One In/One Out
Once you’ve organized your physical workspace, the challenge is to keep things neat. Facilitate this process by implementing a one in/one out rule. For example, if you buy a new book, consider donating one to the local library. Invest in a new mouse or keyboard? Donate the old one to make way for the new.
Clear up digital clutter
Just as we waste time sifting through hard copies of unsorted documents, we can easily lose time searching through files on our computers. In fact, people can spend up to an hour a day trying to find digital documents. Avoid this time-waster by creating clearly labeled folders in your inbox and on your desktop.
Don’t forget to back up digital files on a regular basis. Up to 70 percent of businesspeople lose computer data each year, to the tune of $18 billion. Avoid being one of them by backing up files to an external hard drive on a weekly basis or enlist an off-site internet service to back up files to the cloud.
Beautify the space
A relaxing, visually appealing workspace can boost productivity and exude a sense of professionalism. Up the ante by decorating your workspace with fresh flowers, known to boost creativity and make offices feel truly exciting, invigorating, comfortable and attractive.
Make organization a habit
An office only stays organized if you put in the work to keep it that way. Dedicate five to 10 minutes at the end of each workday to straighten up the workspace and prep for the next day. Not only will you feel accomplished at the end of each day, but you can arrive at work each morning with a clear sense of what needs to be done—and a clean space to do it in.
Once a week (or every other week), set aside an hour to conduct a deeper clean. Dust bookshelves, lampshades and other surfaces, disinfect doorknobs and keyboards and tend to any other clean up needs that may not be met throughout the week.
Getting your office clean—and keeping it that way—may seem like a lot of work up front, but the outcome is well worth it. Put in the effort now, and you’ll reap the rewards every day in the form of increased productivity, professionalism and peace of mind.