Personal Development

3 Tips to Declutter Your Work Life

Foram Sheth
Written by Foram Sheth

Have you ever walked into your colleague’s office looking for that very important time sensitive document only to find yourself in front of piles and piles of documents and scattered food remains? Imagine it – what’s going through your head? If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling anxious, stressed out about meeting your deadline, frustrated, and you curse out your colleague. How can he be so messy?!

Now let’s imagine another scenario. You walk into your colleague’s office looking for that very important time sensitive document. You see the shelf with labeled binders and folders. You quickly search for the folder name, retrieve the document – find other documents that might help – and rush over to your desk to complete your task. How are you feeling now? What are you thinking?

Besides the obvious of an organized workplace allowing for quick retrieval of documents, there are several physical and mental benefits, such as:

It compartmentalizes your work.

Consider our example above with an organized office – the document was quickly found because it was in its rightful, clearly labeled folder. And there were additional supporting documents that were not even considered before, which turned out to be helpful. Organizing your office/desk/cubicle helps separate the clutter of the many simultaneous deadlines, projects, and clients, allowing us to focus on the specific client or project at hand.

It reduces stress.

The physical appearance of clutter brings about anxiety, therefore leading to stress, a sense of feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. An organized workplace allows for quick retrieval of the right document at the right time not only for yourself but for others in the office such as coworkers, bosses and clients.

It shows you care.

You don’t ever walk into the office with disheveled hair. Why not? You don’t want to look sloppy and of course you want to show off your beautiful hair. Your physical workplace is a reflection of you. And others form perceptions of you based on your workplace. An organized workplace shows pride, loyalty, a sense of caring and responsibility. Next time you contemplate whether or not you want to organize your workplace, think about that one person in the office who is always dressed immaculately. Either you hate this person for being so damn put together or you’re this person. Either way – people know you care about yourself, how you look, and you seem very polished. And that’s just an outfit. Imagine what people may perceive when the workplace is organized.

It saves time.

You had your Friday outfit all planned on Thursday night. You wake up Friday morning and walk over to your closet for that new shirt. You can’t find it. You frantically start looking everywhere and you still don’t find it. You then go through the 5 stages of grief – you even negotiate to skip happy hour to find that top but you still don’t find it. You’re left with no choice and you pick another outfit, ruining your whole day. Pretty rough day, huh? Similarly, with an organized workplace, you’ll find things more quickly, you feel less frustration, and you’ll find yourself saving time that would have otherwise been wasted looking for that lost document.

Tip 1: Organize your digital life

I remember an instance where I needed to create a deliverable for a client. I had done something very similar at a previous project so I search my laptop, my emails and of course I couldn’t find it. I spent three hours putting together a document that I had already done before. I was so irritated. This is when I got my butt into gear and decided to organize my files. Take a look at your desktop right now. Do you have files covering every inch of your screen? Do you struggle to find documents or have short term memory like me and don’t remember where you saved something? This can be fixed by organizing your digital life. Here’s how:

Step 1: Categorize all projects and recurring actions
Think about your day yesterday. What were you doing? How did you spend your time? You may be involved in several projects, some internal initiatives, and you have to submit time and expenses. For all recurring projects and activities, create folders with clear labels for easy access.
Step 2: Create a filing system
For any emails or documents pertaining to a category created, be sure to file only under that folder. This organized system will help you review documents at a glance, put together summaries or refresh your memory when you need it. This filing system will save you time, energy and chaos of seeing 291293 emails in your inbox, leaving you with only the very important follow up emails in your inbox and space on your screensaver for those very cute golden retrievers.
Step 3: Have a consistent naming convention
I can’t stress this one enough. There will be times that you forget where you stored that document. By labeling your documents the same way every time, it also avoids any version control issues. My suggestion for naming convention is this: TOPIC_TITLE_ _DATE_VERSION. Having a version such as draft_v2 will prevent you (hopefully) from working on draft_v1 – an outdated draft. Trust me, this may happen when you’re working late nights so avoid the hassle by being diligent about your naming convention.

Doing this will not only save you HOURS of time from having to reinvent the wheel but it will also save you a lot of frustration and stress. You’ll also look like the hero when you respond to an email right away because you were able to find the exact information you needed. Not to mention, the next time your boss asks for a document while hovering over you, you can get it to him immediately so he backs off, allowing you to do more important work, like stalking your ex on Facebook.

Tip 2:  Organize your to-do list:

When you walk into the office in the morning, how do you know what you’re going to work on? Don’t wait for a fire drill to occur and then spend your whole day working on that. You may miss very important deadlines. The way to mitigate this is by organizing your to-do list. First, write down all of the things that you have to work on. Then, take some time and categorize how long each task might take and the work effort required. Are there any tasks that require strategic thinking or is it mindless work that needs to get done? Are there any tasks that you can delegate? When you have a complete list of your to-dos along with priority, difficulty level and time required, think about how you need to organize your day so that you can complete the important tasks. For strategic decisions or tasks that are complex, consider working on those tasks when you’re at your best – whether that’s in the morning, after a workout, or after you’ve had your coffee. You need brainpower for those tasks. For tasks that are mindless, you may want to save them for the end of the workday when you might be tired.

To help prioritize, you may consider the following matrix to help you categorize your tasks. Tasks that are important and urgent should get your immediate attention. For tasks that are important and but yet urgent, you should plan how you will efficiently complete the tasks. Tasks that are not important but urgent are annoying interruptions. For these interruptions, ask yourself: can these tasks be delegated? This will help you focus on the more important tasks. And tasks that are not urgent or important are distractions. Don’t prioritize these tasks over other tasks and try to delegate them out.

Tip 3: Organize your work bag

Think of your work bag as your lifeline. It carries everything you need to survive – your laptop, pen, paper, a snack, water, and aspirin for when you’re hungover or if the client talks too much. Organize your bag in a way that there is nothing more than necessities and nothing less. Don’t clutter your purse with junk like coupons for Macy’s. Keep it simple and keep the same thing in the same place. For our traveling consultants or for those who travel often, your bag is your office. Have everything you need organized so that you can retrieve your charger right away when your laptop runs out of juice or when you need a pen to write down that cute person’s phone number. With an organized bag, you’ll reduce tension and avoid any last-minute anxiety.

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About the author

Foram Sheth

Foram Sheth

Foram is co-founder and coach at Ama La Vida, an innovative company that uses coaching, technology and community to help you live and love your life to the absolute fullest. You can learn more about Ama La Vida here and sign up to the powerful "Illuminate Your Purpose" e-Coaching program here. Foram loves to eat, drink red wine only in stemmed wine glasses and go on adventures with friends and family. She is an avid Harry Potter fan and is still waiting for her letter from Hogwarts.

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