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Clean Out Your Desk
December 21, 2015

I have a plaque in my office. It was a gift from a friend who has actually seen where I work. It says, “A Clean Desk Is the Sign of a Sick Mind.” I think she was trying to make me feel better, because I admit my desk is usually in a state of disarray verging on total chaos.

This lack of organization has been known to cause some problems because at least once a day I have to stop and search my desk for some item or document that I need to work. And apparently I am not alone. According to experts, Americans waste almost 30 minutes a day – 180 hours a year – looking for misplaced items. If your hourly fee is $20, that's $3600 a year! I would wager that there are many things you could do with an extra $3600 or 180 hours this year.

One of the first steps to getting organized is eliminating the clutter, and one of the first places you should tackle is your desk. Here's a six-step approach to streamlining your workspace:

1. Set aside some time. The scenario you want to avoid: getting elbow-deep in the organizing process, only to have to dump it all back in the drawers and boxes because you have to stop to finish a report, host a webinar, or pick your kids up from school. While how much time you need will depend on the size of your space (and your mess), a good rule of thumb is an hour for a desk, bookshelf, or file drawer.

2. Pull it all out. Even though it will make a mess, the quickest and easiest way to start your organizing process is to clear out the drawer, shelf, or desktop. Strip it down to the studs and wipe the surface free of dirt, dust, and stray paperclips. Then you'll have a fresh surface to work from.

3. Sort. Sort the items you pulled out into categories, such as paper, writing implements, books, manuals, etc. As you are sorting, toss any obvious offenders, such as scraps of paper, broken items, outdated receipts, etc.

4. Decide. Choose how many of each item you need – pens, blank notebooks, etc. – and then toss, recycle, or give away the rest. Trying to decide what you need to keep? Think about what you have space for, as well as what you're likely to use in a reasonable amount of time. You might have room for seventeen replacement cartridges for your printer, but will you use them all before you upgrade to a new printer?

5. Organize. Replace the items in a logical manner – printing supplies near the printer, business books on a single shelf, computer manuals near the computer, etc. Also think about keeping the most frequently used items in the most accessible place, and less-frequently used items in more remote locales.

6. Maintain. Unfortunately, organizing is not a one-time event; you must set aside regular times to file paperwork, clear the counters, and take out the trash. Even just five minutes at the end of the day is sufficient to keep a handle on pile build-up.

Organizing is a great way to start the new year. It will help you get a grip on any new needs you have, as well as remind you of tasks and projects awaiting your attention. You'll be ready to tackle whatever comes your way with a clean desk, and a clean mind.

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