“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?“—attributed to Albert Einstein, German-American physicist.
Ah, spring, when a young person’s fancy turns to thoughts of… well, spring cleaning. Once tax season has passed and your general anxiety level has settled down, you’ve got to find something else to keep you on your toes. In the old days, the fresh air and fine, bright weather of spring was the ideal time to spend a few days airing out the stuffiness of winter, cleaning out the closets, and scouring the home from top to bottom. Some of us still perform this annual ritual at home. For many of us, it’s become a fixture in our workplaces as well.
It makes sense to occasionally stop long enough to clean up your workspace and performance. You don’t have to do it in the springtime, but it’s usually convenient to do so: the post-holiday crush has slowed, and most of us haven’t scheduled our vacations yet. A few hours spent setting things right in April can save you days or weeks worth of time in the coming year.
True Spring Cleaning
In a work context, spring cleaning is more about tightening up your work processes and organizing your resources than actually breaking out the Windex and Mr. Clean. You’re adult enough to keep the crumbs out of your keyboard and your monitor clean, and housekeeping should take care of the rest.
So what’s first? Organizing. Despite the Einstein quote at the top of the page, an empty desk actually helps you concentrate and boosts performance, as does a clean computer desktop—if only because they cut back on the amount of time required to find things. If you can’t remember what the top of your desk looks like, it’s time to sort the piles of paper into keepers and recyclables, re-shelve all your books, and put your tools where they go. If you use something rarely, like a staple puller or a hole-punch, put it in a drawer or on the outer perimeter of your workspace. Keep items you use daily—to-do lists, phone, current projects files, stapler, and similar tools—within arm’s reach. That way, you won’t waste a second looking for them.
While you’re at it, delete old project files from your desktop, and hide the icons for programs you rarely use. Organize the rest neatly. Sometimes this takes only a tap of a key or a click of a mouse.
Next, get rid of stuff you don’t need: that extra stapler, the forty-eleven dried-up ink pens in your desk drawer, or the old scanner in the corner. Take the unused office supplies back to the supply closet, give away what you can, and toss the rest.
For today’s office worker, the most hoarded of possessions tends to be information. It’s so easy to communicate nowadays that we receive more calls and emails than we know what to do with. With near-unlimited storage space, we have a distressing tendency not to delete them, either, letting them stack up to ridiculous levels.
With such an overwhelming flood of information, there’s no way to answer every message or read every article before some or all of them go stale. If you’ve got thousands of emails in your Gmail account (and some of us do), it may be best to simply purge everything more than a few days old and start over, implementing a strict information handling technique. I recommend my 6-D Information Management System™. If you apply one of six actions starting with a “D” to every bit of information that comes your way, you’ll find it much easier to do your job productively. Briefly, the six Ds include:
- Discard what you can live without.
- Delegate it to someone else.
- Do it now, if it takes just a few minutes.
- Put it off until you have time for it.
- Store it if you don’t use it but can’t toss it.
- Unsubscribe from the source or otherwise stop receiving the information.
“Just-in-time” may work in manufacturing, but applying it to your work processes and productivity doesn’t work too well. Once you’ve got a system in place, pick up after yourself daily, so your next bout of spring cleaning won’t knock your socks off. I’m not saying a regular scrubbing won’t be necessary, but it should prove relatively minor, a one-day task that comes and goes like clockwork.
Think of it as like weeding your garden. If you spend ten minutes a day at it, you’ll stay ahead of the weeds. Put it off for weeks, though, and you’re in for hours and hours of hard, backbreaking work just to get back to Square One.
© 2016 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (January 18, 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.