While we can disregard emotional issues to a large degree when it comes to decluttering offices, I’m often surprised by the sheer amount of clutter and disorganisation I see when going into an office!
"If I throw out papers, I will toss something important.”
Here’s the deal: We don’t need nearly as many physical records as we keep. Most likely, if you choose any pile of papers and look at it, a full 80% of it will be junk mail, receipts that you don’t need, bills that have already been paid, or other documents that are accessible online or no longer relevant. The remaining 20% could usually fit in a small filing box.
Do you need a paper version of every single bill you pay? Probably not, especially if you make payments through your bank account – all that information will be part of your extracts and can be easily followed up with your bank, most likely even through online banking systems.
However, and this applies especially if you are running a business, it pays to get legal advice over documents you are not quite sure about and asking your accountant questions to figure out what you absolutely need to keep!
If a piece of paper is related to a contentious matter, a dispute with a supplier, contains warranty information or similar, of course you would want to keep those. It’s a question of figuring out just how much of your paperwork falls into this category.
If you think about utility bills and other regularly occurring payments, why would you keep the bill? Once it’s paid, the payment will appear on your bank statements, or you could keep the payment slip after paying cash. Keep the last one to tell you if you have skipped one, but apart from the original contract there is no need to keep every single bill. You’ll find that just that little change will have a huge impact on all paperwork relating to regular payments.
"I can never find the documents I need to deal with.”
This is not a problem of clutter but an issue of organisation! While clutter might make it difficult to organise yourself, it’s no excuse for letting things get out of hand and adding to the clutter even more. If you follow the school of “I’ll put it on top of everything else on my desk so I can see it first thing next time”, you are setting yourself up for failure because every bit of paper on that pile has started out that way, and just look where they are now: still sitting on the desk. The basic trick here is to make sure to have a space where all the actionable items end up. What’s an actionable item? Anything that you have to take care of, usually within a deadline. Having THOSE things disappear in a pile of clutter is a disaster easily avoided.
If there is no such space, it is probably because of clutter. What is clutter in an office space? You might argue that everything on your desk is an actionable item. And you would be wrong. A lot of things on your desk are actually things that just need to be archived or thrown away (see: old bills, etc above). It all comes back to clearing the backlog, doesn’t it?
Thus, the first order of things is to have a designated IN tray (a ‘home’) for your actionable items. I recommend finding a spot you cannot avoid seeing every time you pass it, and should actually not be in the office space, but rather near the place where you look at incoming mail so you can add actionable items to your IN tray straight away without having to find a temporary location (where they inevitably get lost sooner or later). It’s simple enough to pick up the IN tray from its spot, take action, and return it to its home once you are done. This will ensure that you stay very aware that there is something that needs taking care of… now!
Now that you are keeping track of new stuff, but how do we deal with the backlog? That’s all about sorting things: read part 2.
If you have enjoyed reading this, you may find these other articles interesting:
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.