Reclaim Your Desk:
Six Steps to Break Free of Paper Clutter
By Christi Youd
just about anyone’s workspace these days and you’re bound to see the
same thing: piles and piles of paper…on the desk, on top of the
filing cabinet and even on the floor. Paper has seemingly overrun
many offices, causing stress, confusion, and a lapse in
something as simple as paper cause so much turmoil? The answer lies
in how we deal with it. The fact is when it comes to paper clutter,
many people make the “putting away” process too complicated. So
rather than do something with their paper, they set it aside and
pile it. Or, if it’s an active piece of paper, meaning something
that represents work they need to do, they don’t have a home for
that active paperwork. Those are the papers that get spread all over
the desk and moved from one side to the next.
Fortunately, no matter how high your piles are or how many you have,
you can control the clutter and reclaim your desktop (and even your
floor). Use the following six tips to de-clutter once and for all.
Create a “home” for your active paperwork: Many people rely on
an “inbox” for active paperwork, and that’s one of the biggest
mistakes when it comes to de-cluttering. An inbox inherently lends
itself to inaction. Think about your own inbox for a moment. Do you
often have paper sitting in your inbox for a long time? Do papers
“slip between the cracks” because they got buried in your inbox? Is
your inbox regularly overflowing with papers that spread all over
the desk? Most people answer “yes” to at least one of those
better solution is to have a work processing system in your desk
file drawer. This tickler file system consists of a thirty-one
hanging files, one for each day of the month. Behind those are
twelve additional hanging files, one for each month. As each piece
of active paper comes into your office, you make a decision as to
what date you are committed to taking action on that paper and file
it in the appropriate date’s file. If it’s something you need to
schedule further in the year, put it in the appropriate month’s
file. Each evening you simply pull out the dated file for the
following date and prioritize all the tasks the papers represent.
This one strategy keeps your desktop free of active paperwork
clutter and enables you to process work in a timely manner.
Prepare your file drawers: Before you start filing the rest of
your papers, you need an efficient filing system in place. To begin,
make sure you have access to four file drawers within your cockpit.
That means you should be able to reach each of the four file drawers
while sitting behind your desk. One file drawer will be the tickler
file system you just created. The remaining three are what’s
necessary to properly fit all the documents the average person needs
to keep for work.
filing system that is easy to maintain you need to keep it extremely
simple. Therefore, create five broad categories that encompass all
the kinds of papers you need to keep for your job. Why five?
Research shows that the human mind can keep straight up to five
distinctions without having to stop and think about it. Any more
than five distinctions is too much effort, and that’s when people
set the paper aside rather than file it away. An example of five
broad categories may be Administrative, Sales & Marketing,
Financials, Production, and Research & Development. Choose the
categories that make the most sense with your roles and
sub-divide your categories or make mini-categories within each, as
that just complicates the filing system. You want to be able to find
any document by merely remembering the mantra “One of
Five—Alphabetized,” meaning the paper you need is in one of five
categories and in alphabetical order. Keeping your filing system
this simple also allows others in your office to find documents they
need when you are away from the office.
Create individual files: Now that you have your file drawer
space ready and your five categories, it’s time to create the
individual files. You may prefer to delay the actual file naming
process until you have gone through the paper sorting process. If
so, for now simply get your drawers ready to receive all those
each of your five broad categories you will have individual file
folders. So, for example, if Sales & Marketing is one of your broad
categories, your files within that category may consist of
“advertising,” “media kits,” “publicity,” etc.
choosing the headings for your files, always choose a noun and
choose a broad heading. Realize that it’s better to have fewer files
with broader headings, each with fifty pages, rather than many
specific files, each with five pages. However, if a file becomes too
large and cumbersome, you can subdivide it. Just remember that the
greater number of files you have the more difficult it becomes to
locate and retrieve papers when you need them. If there are a number
of possibilities of where a paper could have been filed you’ll learn
to not trust your filing system. As a result, you’ll start to pile
instead of file.
each individual file folder its own hanging file. Label the hanging
file and the file folder the exact same label, word for word. Then,
when you pull a file out, you merely pull out the file folder. You
leave the hanging file in the drawer to save its place. When you are
finished with the file, read the label on the file folder and find
the same label in the drawer on a hanging file. Again, keep
everything alphabetized for ease.
Insist on proper file placement: When labeling their files, many
people make the mistake of labeling one file on the left side, one
label in the center, and one on the right side throughout the file
drawer. Sure, this looks nice the first day you set it up, but as
soon as you add a new file, you mess up your system. Soon you’re not
sure where to expect the next label, so you have to slow down and
study your file labels every time you need to file a paper away.
This makes filing complicated. As a result, you’ll have the tendency
to set the paper aside rather than file it.
approach is to use straight row filing, where each tab is directly
behind the tab in front of it. Keep the tabs in alphabetical order.
That way you know where each tab is and in what order they come.
You’ll be amazed at how much easier filing instantly becomes.
Speed sort through the de-cluttering process: With your tickler
file prepared, your filing system created, and your individual file
folders ready, it’s time to tackle the mounds of paper in your
office. As you handle each piece of paper, ask yourself the
Can I discard this yet? (Under what
circumstances will you for sure use this piece of paper again?
If you ever did need it again, is there another source you could
get it from?)
Can I delegate this?
Can I handle this in 60 seconds or less? (If
it’s something you can do right now in 60 seconds or less and
get it out of your life, then do so.)
What date am I committed to take action on this?
(Put it in that day’s tickler file.)
What heading do I want this filed under in my
a filter system where you get rid of as much as you can. By the time
you’re done with these questions you should only be left with the
documents you truly need to keep. Please note that you may want to
check with your accountant, attorney, or manager about what types of
documents you legally have to save.
Insist on maintaining a proper fit inside your file drawers: You
know you have a proper fit if you can open a drawer, open the file,
insert the paper, and close the drawer using only one hand. If you
need two hands to file the paper then you have exceeded a proper
fit. When there is an improper fit the filing process becomes a
bother and you tend to procrastinate filing your papers. Therefore,
when your filing cabinets get too stuffed, go through the speed
sorting questions again. Eliminate what you can. Move the rest to
Paper = Less Stress: When you know how to file effectively and
you can keep a clutter-free desk, you’ll experience less stress and
greater concentration, which ultimately leads to increased
productivity. So no matter how bad the paper clutter is in your
office, get started on these six tips today. A little de-cluttering
effort today will yield greater productivity and profits for you for
years to come.
Read other articles and learn more
about Christi Youd.
[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis.
Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and