Most people find decluttering an office to be a chore rather than a challenge. It is an entirely different exercise from decluttering a home. Why is that so? Part of the answer lies in the idea of “emotional attachment”.
An office normally contains materials that are largely of a practical, useful nature, a lot of paperwork, usually things that can be separated into the basic categories of “in use”, “need to keep (legal obligation or for information purposes), “outdated” and “clearly rubbish”. I’m simplifying here, of course, but you get the idea. Rarely do we come across anything that cannot be classified with relative ease. It’s mainly a question of knowing what to keep and understanding what is useless. And yet… we procrastinate.
One of the main issues in keeping an office clutter-free is the way we handle paperwork. Most people deal with incoming paperwork in the following manner: they read all the incoming stuff (be it on paper or email) one bit after the other, then start working on the bit that seems most urgent. Once that job is done, they have to look at all the papers again to pick the next urgent thing to do, and they repeat this process over and over again. A lot of time is spent for nothing and a feeling of urgency and time-constraint is created in the process.
What they should really consider is to read ONE piece, decide on which action to take straight away, and immediately sort the papers into “to do right now”, “do it later”, “file” (all the bits that contain information or confirmation and that can prove useful in the future), “bin” (all the bits that have served their purpose and can be discarded right now). By doing this, not only is there no need to re-read everything, but they can simply pick the next item from the top level category “to do right now” until nothing is left, then move to the next category, or deal with filing.
This is a very simple but useful way to avoid repetition and time loss, and it can be vastly improved by having a set of desk filing drawers that are clearly marked with the categories. New stuff simply slots in and the workflow is not constantly interrupted.
Of course, the “do it later” category will have to be visited on a regular basis, but since it has already been determined that these things can wait a little while, the attention stays with the important stuff that looks much less daunting now that a lot of papers have been removed from the pile already.
The “file” category is another stumbling block for a lot of people: the longer these papers sit there before being properly filed, the more likely it becomes that you’ll have to review them before being able to properly file them. However, filing all the time is a huge waste of time as well – it’s a question of finding a balance. I recommend filing once a week, preferably towards the end of the week as to make sure that Monday morning you can start the week afresh, with the least amount of backlog and unnecessary papers sitting on your desk. You might even try thinking of “filing” as a break from the urgent matters , clearing your mind by doing a more manual task for a while.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.