When it comes to banishing paper and clearing clutter, there’s a lot of advice out there. Touch each piece of paper once and deal with, delegate or ditch it. Clear off your desk at the end of every day. Go paperless!
For most of us, the conventional advice just doesn’t work. The paper piles grow higher and we feel overwhelmed by them. Fortunately, there are a few experts who had some fresh advice that just might work.
If there is nowhere to put the piles on top of your desk, it’s going to be difficult to get rid of them, says professional organizer Sara S. Skillen, founder of Franklin, Tennessee-based SkillSet Organizing. Clear out permanent files and drawers so you have a place to put the items on your desk. Return unused office supplies–another source of clutter–to their storage area.
Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to put everything away every day, you can still keep the clutter to a manageable level. Skillen recommends using vertical files, labeled with the typical categories into which your desk piles fall, such as:
- Needs Follow-up
- Read and respond
Skillen recommends setting aside 15 to 20 minutes each day to deal with the items in your vertical files–move them to your permanent files or take the actions they require–so those files don’t get overstuffed, too. You may even find that a file can be delegated, such as scanning receipts or coding invoices for payment.
“Even if you’re delaying making decisions, you at least have the paper separated into broad categories that you can tackle when your schedule allows,” she says.
Some people have cluttered desks because they’re afraid to let urgent files out of their sight, says Melissa Galt founder of Atlanta, Georgia-based business consultancy Prosper by Design. They’re afraid they might forget something, and it’s comforting to see it.
The problem is that, if that fear results in stacks of files, “you’re not really seeing what you need,” Galt says. Instead, clear out all or part of a drawer for your work-in-progress files. That way, they’re all in one place and, when they’re better organized, you’re going to be able to see, with a quick glance, what you have going on.
Sometimes, a bit of judgment is what we need to keep us motivated, says business consultant Jennifer Martin, founder of Ojai, California-based Zest Business Consulting. She recommends looking to third parties–a mentor, colleague or employee–to help you keep clutter-free through some sort of check-in.
“If you know that your desk is a nightmare and you need to do something about it, but you can’t seem to make it a priority, find someone you respect and have an agreement that you will send them a picture of your desk once a week or once every two weeks,” she suggests.
Martin says another way to build in accountability is to schedule a video call with a colleague or friend. Block out 30 minutes on your calendar to catch up while you both clear off your desks. Repeat as needed. During team conference calls, encourage participants to work on clutter as you meet. They can still participate while they’re sorting and filing, she says.
All-or-nothing thinking can derail your efforts, Galt says. Even if you can’t achieve a completely clear desk every day, shoot for tidy and organized, so you at least know where your files are and what needs to be done most immediately. She admits that she doesn’t achieve a completely clear desk. But as long as you have a system that keeps clutter under control and works for you, that’s perfectly fine, she says.