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Eliminate Clutter Now

Bust these myths about staying organized and get a fresh start in 2007.

By Laura Leist

What does office disorganization cost your company? The Wall Street Journal published a study indicating that the average employee wastes nearly six weeks a year looking for information and things in their office. Multiply six weeks by your salary—that’s a lot of money! Here are four misconceptions that keep people from getting organized. Bust these myths and take action today to get your office—and business—in order.

1. If I file it, I’ll never find it again. The key to a great filing system is the ability to retrieve the information you need—when you need it. The act of filing the paper is simple—the critical step lies in making sure you categorize it correctly so that you and others can easily access it.

2. If I hire an office manager/assistant, he’ll get me organized. For an office manager or assistant to be successful, there must be systems and processes that he can follow on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Typically, this person does not create the systems or processes, but rather maintains them. In many cases, this individual may not have the background to develop those systems or processes for you, yet he will be excellent at using them. You play a key role in the development of these systems because they will be in place long after the assistant has moved on.

3. Being organized stifles creativity. We’ve all heard of right-brained vs. left-brained individuals: Those that are right-brained tend to be more creative and thus disorganized. The fact is those right-brained people tend to be more visual and like to see what they are working on. So, much of their work is left out in the open. There is no right or wrong way to be organized. It’s really about creating systems and processes that you can maintain to be efficient and productive. Your work can be out in the open, as long as it is done in an organized fashion so that when you need the information, you can retrieve it.

4. Being neat and tidy is the same as being organized. It’s easy to sweep the contents of your disorganized desktop into a box, bag or desk drawer, but that is not a solution. At some point you must face the underlying disorganization. No matter what excuse you make for it, clutter in your office is distracting. Having a system and a place to put things in your office will help minimize the distractions and eliminate stress. Here are a few tips to help you declutter your office:

  • Magazine holders: Use them to store directories, software manuals, packages of computer labels, folders, user guides, packages of computer paper, etc. When placing on a shelf, you want to see the back of the holder instead of the contents; it gives your shelves a clean look.

  • Computer software: Empty the contents of the boxes and keep the software and manual. Put the product key on the CD case or CD itself. User manuals can be stored in a magazine holder or in a hanging file in your filing cabinet. Software can be stored in a binder or a box designed for software.

  • “To be filed”: Establish a location in your office for papers that require no additional action, but just need to be filed. Don’t allow this location to accumulate items that need action.

  • Receipts: Create a place for receipts. Make a decision immediately if you need to keep a particular receipt. If you file an expense report, keep an envelope where you can place the receipts until you file the report. If you are the business owner, be sure to label the type of expense it is immediately. It will save you hours at tax time.

  • Names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers: Establish a location in your office where you’ll keep these pieces of information until you have time to record them in your contact management program or address book. Use a folder that you keep close by or a small container into which you toss the information. Better yet, record it immediately and discard that piece of paper.

  • Bookshelves: Group books by category. Instead of standing them all upright, try laying groups of books flat and stacked on top of each other. Bookshelves don’t need to be full of books. In between the groups, you can display a photo or special treasures.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Laura Leist, author of Organizing & Customizing with Microsoft Outlook 2003 and Eliminate Chaos, is an organizational consultant who provides services to individuals in their homes, small businesses and corporations. She serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Professional Organizers. For more information call 425-670-2551 or email



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