Setting Up Your Office for Maximum Productivity

You work hard and want to be as productive as possible.  If you knew you were inadvertently creating office systems that slowed you down, you would of course be interested in correcting them.  In my fifteen years of teaching people to be more productive, I’ve observed many bad habits and behaviors that are easily corrected.  To get you started, here are four office faux pas you can fix and instantly become more efficient:

1.      Piling instead filing. If you have a cluttered office, you will spend more time trying to find information; you will have a harder time focusing on the task before you; other people won’t be able to find anything; your system is in your head, which taxes your memory; you will have higher anxiety levels; and it could impede your career progression, as people perceive people with sloppy desks to have sloppy work.  An organized desk sends this important message: I’ve got it together. Visualize your desk in your mind. What does it “say” to others? The next time someone walks over to your cluttered desk and makes a “joke” about the mess, you might want to listen and learn to file correctly. Your newly organized desk will now say that you are professional, competent, decisive, efficient, productive, and in control.

2.      Using stackable trays.  Stackable trays are great near a printer to store frequently-used letterhead, envelopes, and paper supplies.  They are horrible, however, for active work, as they simply become storage areas for mystery piles.  Once something goes into a stackable tray, it’s typically “out of sight, out of mind.”  You’ll end up with lower-priority items mixed in with high-priority work and project files mixed up with reference information.  Instead, use vertical “step” files with colored file folders for each category of information you keep: projects, ideas, and subjects.

3.      Keeping future work on your desk. Where do you put a meeting agenda for a meeting two weeks away? Where do you put an invoice so you remember to pay it in three weeks? Where do you put those plane tickets you don’t want to lose? Where do you put the birthday card (that you managed to buy on time) so you remember to send it? If you’re like most people, you put it on your desk!  Now the piles of papers grow around you, as if you poured fertilizer on them. So what can you do instead?  You need a system that will remind you which papers require your action today and allow you to forget the rest until their time. The answer: a Tickler File.  Get 43 hanging folders, label them 1-31 and January-December and hang in a drawer.  File paper on the day or month you need to see it again.  Check your tickler file each day and pull out the items you filed.

4.      Using sticky notes as to-do lists.  Another area of organization deals with all those little pink telephone slips, messages, and sticky notes you accumulate all day. Have you ever found yourself unable to understand your own scribbled notes or unable to even locate a message taken earlier in the day? Do you ever have trouble remembering if you returned a phone call or if someone called you back?  Some people miss appointments or forget to return phone calls because they cannot locate the original message.  Sticky notes are great to write down a fax number, mark a textbook, or a reminder to pick up dry cleaning.  Sticky notes should not be used for phone calls or anything requiring your action.  Instead, use the Tasks or To-Do function of your email/calendaring software, or use an old-fashioned paper planner to write a list of things to do each day.

If you said, “Yep, that’s me,” decide to make some changes.  With your now-neat desk, your vertical files, your tickler file, and your new time management system, you will not only experience a boost in your productivity but will motivate others to get organized as well.


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