"In a sense, clutter is the end result of procrastination." Jeff Campbell
Show me a guy with a clean office and I’ll show you a guy . . . . How would you fill in that blank?.
What I've found over the years is that people are a bit too cocky about how busy they are - and often a bit too proud about the mess they work in. Have you ever come across people that think the mess they live in at the office is a badge of honour - it makes them look busy (and thus awesome)?
But think about it. Where else in life does a mess and clutter translate into a sign of success? The operating room? Your home? The city park? Let’s face it, getting things properly ordered, cleaned up and manageable is everyones measure of success - unless and until they give up because they can’t get there. Then someone comes along to comfort these lost souls with some wild idea that messy-is-good.
Without being too severe, people that live in clutter and stay unorganized, are inevitably less efficient, struggling with timelines, and are producing less than ideal results. And they just feel busy. And admit it, very few people like to work in chaos. Maybe you survived your college dorm room mess, but most people realize soon enough that the mouldy dishes, stacks of paper and dirty clothes are stress-inducing accidents waiting to happen. Especially when translated to the office.
But there’s hope!
The secret hack is in the power of work-flow: most office and business environments are the same - so there is really only one hack to learn no matter what type of work you do. It can be applied by everyone who works. Figure out your work flow and then categorize. Here’s how our law office works (Staff/Legal Assistants/Lawyers): we set up our physical (and digital) space (desk, file storage, paper notes, computer digital files) so there are five (5) distinct holding ‘tanks’ for each part of the natural work flow:
Pending/Yet to Open
Pending/Waiting for Contract, Info, Mortgage Instructions, etc (i.e. pending what we need in order to do the job)
ALLOCATING (or INBOX)
Once you have everything needed to begin work, the tasks and files sit until they are delegated or you’re ready to get to work on them.
Note: things don’t sit in this physical area very long. If you can’t do it in a reasonable time, delegate to someone who can. Get it into the “Working” tank as soon as possible.
This week’s work (maybe)
Correspondence sent to someone (pending response)
Invoice sent out (pending payment)
Task delegated (pending completion)
Note: if waiting time is expected to be more than a week, diarize in your calendar to bring that matter back to your attention for a follow-up. Those matters can be put in a file cabinet or other (digital) storage until then. Staying clean is key.
Note: items here could move back and forth between “Working” and “Waiting” several times during that project’s life span depending on the scope and nature of the work needed and the number of people involved.
Everything done? Then file, report, scan, and shred.
This five (5) Tank Work Flow might work for you. Or you may need to add or subtract a tank for your particular business or work environment. And not all projects require all four of those tanks. But if you create this as your overall organizational structure, the mess and clutter will be tamed.
Some people whine that studies prove creativity is stifled by a clean, organized environment. Well, that’s just weird. First, most businesses are not purely creative in scope. Creativity is most often a small part of most job descriptions. Create and be creative - but a job still needs to be done. So even if creativity does benefit from a messy desk, it cannot possibly be optimal for overall performance. A creative idea or solution needs implementation - and tasks need to get done to make it happen.
Second, we are not talking about an EMPTY cavernous desk or office that’s void of warmth or character. We’re talking about an ORGANIZED desk and office that reduces, stress, helps with prioritizing your hour or day, and keeps your work (even creative work) flowing.
"If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" Albert Einstein
Most of us are not Albert Einsteins - not even close. My guess is that he had all that stuff on this desk neatly organized in his brilliant brain. The competition is not between empty and cluttered. The competition is between chaos and organization. You’re going to have something on your desk, in your cubicle or in your office.
"The only difference between a mob and a trained army is organization." Calvin Coolidge