Spring Cleaning: Time to Get Organized!


Itís springtime! For most, that means throwing open the windows and doing some serious spring cleaning. Itís also a great opportunity to catch up on much-needed spring organizingÖattacking the organizational backlog that may have piled up over the last few months.

Here are some tips on doing away with the two most pervasive and frustrating forms of clutter: paper clutter and electronic clutter.

Tackling paper clutter

A BusinessWeek article called ďThe Office of the FutureĒ gives a promising glimpse into the future of office productivity, including the paperless office. The article was originally published in 1975. Anyone out there working in a paperless office yet? Quite the contrary. Most of us are saddled with more paper than ever. So much for the paperless office!

How often have you been on the verge of pulling your hair out because you canít find a particular piece of paper? How much would it reduce your day-to-day stress level if you didnít have to look at stacks of unorganized stuff all week? This is a great time of year to grab one pile at a time and get every piece of paper where it belongs.

Some hints to accomplish this task:

You donít have to do anything. When it comes to cluttered inboxes and crowded desk space, the number one offender are items that you need to handle eventually, but donít have time to do right now. When you are getting organized, it isnít the time to get involved in a bunch of individual projects or tasks.

The only things you should actually do on the spot are the ones that can be completed in a few minutes (sign a form, prepare something for the mail, that sort of thing). Everything else can be addressed at a later date. If you canít do it right away, file it in your tickler file (click here if you donít have one), or make a note in your planner that indicates what you need to do, when you need to do it, and where youíll find the information you need.

You donít have to keep everything. Be realistic. How much of the stuff on your desk is just trash that is continually shuffled from place to place? Donít look for reasons to keep stuff, look for opportunities to get rid of it.

Do you have a records retention policy in place? If you do, be sure to follow it, keeping what you need and actively purging what you donít. If you donít have a policy in place, take some time to decide what needs to be kept and what can be purged regularly. Be ruthlessópaper versions of documents you have electronically, reports youíll never read, notes youíll never needómost of this can probably go.

You donít have to read everything. If there was something tremendously valuable in that reading pile of yours, wouldnít you have gotten to it by now? Instead, there it sits, not only taking up space but also discouraging you from reading the things that matter.

Have you considered just starting fresh? Donít be afraid to send piles of reading material to the recycle bin if they arenít worth your time and attention. Then you can keep up with your reading as it comes in. Once youíve cleared the backlog, youíll feel refreshed and motivated to keep up with the day-to-day filing and management of paper, which ideally should take place at least once a week.

Tackling electronic clutter

Have your computer files become so messy and scattered that even the handy Search tool struggles to find what you need? Itís very easy to get in a hurry and simply drop an electronic file on your computerís desktop or toss it in the My Documents folder.

Then you do it again. And again. The next thing you know, youíve got a sea of icons cluttering up your screen and you have to squint your eyes and hunt for the one you need.

By putting an electronic filing system in place, it will be much easier to know where to save files as your receive or create them. Because tackling an electronic mess can be more intimidating than tackling a physical one, here are three straightforward steps to getting your electronic files in order:

1. Create your system. You want all of your files to live in a single master folder that is broken down into many subfolders. That can be your My Documents folder or anything you like. This centralizes your information and makes backups a breeze.

From there, find a sensible way to categorize your files. Maybe youíll start out by creating a subfolder for business files and a subfolder for personal files. Then keep drilling down, until you are creating individual folders for projects, clients, or whatever makes sense.

Keep in mind that much of the time youíll be building your system as you go. With each new file or folder, youíll have to use your judgment to place the information at the best spot in the hierarchy.

2. Round up those files. This is usually the intimidating part, especially if you have out of control folders full of vaguely-named files. If you canít stomach tackling the whole mess at once, then do it a bit at a time. With just five minutes of effort, youíll be amazed at how many files and folders you can have renamed and where they belong. When you have a few minutes to spare, sift through a folder or get through a handful of desktop files. I assure you that each session will be easier than you think!

3. Keep up with it. Once you have a clear desktop and no orphan files running around without homes, itís just a matter of filing things correctly day by day. It only takes a few seconds to label and file things appropriately as they come up. Donít give in to the temptation of letting the chips fall where they may and cleaning up later.

Once youíve caught up with your paper and electronic filing, youíll find that keeping up with it is a piece of cakeÖprovided that you are committed to maintaining the effort. Just remember, it is easier to put something in the right place in the first place than it is to play catch up.

Happy organizing!  Make it a productive day! (TM)

(C) Copyright 2009 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.