Make Your Office Work for You

November 12, 2014


Some experts maintain that the average worker wastes about 30 minutes per day looking for misplaced papers and files. If you are preciously guarding every moment of your day, wasting even a second searching for a document can only be viewed as an extremely poor use of your time.

As a new professional, you will quickly learn that paper has an amazing ability to accumulate and digital files multiply. Following are five strategies that will help you take control of all the material that surrounds you at work:


1.  Set a daily appointment to organize

Everyone has a circadian rhythm, producing two periods each day that are prime for highly-complex activities as well as two periods that are better suited for low-focus activities. During one of those low-focus periods each day, create a recurring appointment on your calendar to address office clutter.

At a minimum, you should plan on the following:

  • Look at every piece of paper on your desk, sort and file.
  • Shred and /or recycle any paper you don’t need to keep.
  • If you do not need to retain hard copies of documents, scan them so they can be stored electronically. (Even better, delegate this task to someone who can scan documents for you.)


2.  Avoid digital clutter

A messy desktop on your computer screen can be just as distracting as a messy desk. For this reason alone, it’s critical that you avoid digital clutter. You can’t afford to waste time looking for digital documents. So it’s critical that you create a system for maintaining and storing electronic files.

Your digital document storage should mirror your physical document storage. In both cases, you should have a place for working files (delineated by client or project), archived files, a WOR (waiting on response) file, and more. Do not keep items on your electronic desktop unless they require your immediate action.

Create a filing system within your email, too. When it comes to managing your time most effectively, you need to: read and address; read and delete; or read and file your email.


3.  Establish work zones

People who manage their time well have bought into the old adage “there’s a place for everything and everything should be in its place.”

Create the following work zones in your office:

  • Work area – Your primary work area likely is your desk or workstation. Keep the flat surface as clean as possible. Pare down any items stored on it to the absolute essentials. That means a computer monitor and keyboard, pens, a notebook or tablet (containing your To-Do list and notes from meetings, phone calls, etc.), a lamp, and a beverage glass or container. Store everything else in drawers.
  • Reference area – The place where you store all background material that you need for various projects. This may include filing cabinets and bookshelves.
  • Supply area – Store all supplies you need to complete work (legal pads, pens, business cards) in this area. It may include drawers, closets and bookshelves.

Place relevant documents, equipment and supplies in their appropriate work zone. Then, position the items you use most frequently within easy reach. So, if you find that you frequently staple documents, rather than cluttering your desktop with a stapler, store it in a supply area (a desk drawer) and preferably one that’s within easy reach.  

Find a place to store personal items you bring into the office, too. Don’t allow your gym bag, handbag or coat to create a distraction. To the extent these items can be tucked into drawers and closets or hung on the back of an office door, please do so.


4.  Folders and labels

Purchase a label maker and learn to love it. Clearly labeling files, binders, shelves and drawers will save you loads of otherwise lost search time.

Create the following physical and electronic files:

  • Working files – Includes client and/or project files that are active and open.
  • Meeting files – Contains items to be discussed or delegated at a meeting; also include any report you have been asked to make at an upcoming meeting.
  • WOR (waiting on response) file – Contains items you’re holding onto while you await someone’s input.
  • Reading file – Contains items you want to read but are not time sensitive.
  • Archive files – Contains all completed projects; get these out of your office and into a storage area as quickly as possible.

You may need to store some paper, for example, legal documents and financial reports, for extended periods of time. Everything else should have a discard date. If you haven’t had time to read a magazine and that magazine is now three months old it’s time to pass it on or recycle


5.  Use color to enhance productivity

As a new professional, you may not be given much leeway regarding how you decorate your office. To the extent you are given some discretion, you may wish to choose colors that boost your productivity or your creativity.

Interior designers have long known that color affects mood. In fact, one of the reasons fast food restaurants once employed lots of reds, yellows and oranges in their dining areas was to encourage quick consumption of food and fast turn around of tables. Conversely, hospitals and doctors offices frequently use greens and blues to encourage calm.

One Canadian study published in the journal Science indicates color can do much more than influence mood. The study looked at the impact of red and blue on a team carrying out a series of mental tasks, including solving anagrams, memorizing word lists and designing toys for children. Over six experiments, the researchers found that red made participants more vigilant and more wary about taking risks. In contrast, blue made participants more likely to take risks.

The researchers concluded that using different colors might be beneficial dependent upon the nature of a task that needs to be performed. If your work calls for “vigilant attention,” for example, you need to analyze a mountain of data or draft a complex contract, then you might want to surround yourself with red. Where a task calls for creativity and imagination, for example, designing a complicated tax strategy or engaging in a brainstorming session about a company’s new marketing initiative, working in a blue room might be more beneficial.


What You Need To Know

Organizing you workspace is a critically important time management strategy. 



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