Management made us sign a document that says we have to keep our office neat – but I'm messy and a pack rat. How can I clean up my act?
"Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire," the esteemed writer and cultural critic Wendell Berry once advised. Even if arson isn't high on your to-do list, clutter can certainly scorch your productivity in the office. Just as you wouldn't want to prepare dinner in your kitchen amid a muddle of previous meals, you wouldn't want to work on today's problems surrounded by the remains of yesterday's tasks. So try this three-step approach that emphasizes reducing, storing, and reviewing.
First, reduce what's on your desk. Remove those items you don't immediately need – books, periodicals, reports, etc. – without mercy, either throwing them away or placing them in a filing cabinet. Keeping them out of sight may help keep them out of mind as well, and prevent you from piling them on your desk again.
Second, store items you need regularly, e.g., office supplies and active files, in drawers, removing them only when you're using them and returning these staples when you're done for the day.
Finally, try to set aside the last five minutes of every day to clear off your desk in keeping with the first two steps listed above. Rest assured that once you make this entire approach a habit, the only fires you'll have to extinguish will be work-related.
, organizational psychologist, is the president of management-consulting company Lumpkin & Associates in Fairhope, AL. Need answers? Email your career-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org