When I first started the Time Management Tuesday project, someone told me she figured messy offices would come into play at some point, and I assured her they would. I started thinking about doing this post early last week before I misplaced a business document for some eldercare work I needed to do. It only took me a day to find it. As it turns out, it was in my bedroom, not the office, suggesting I have clutter problems all over the house.
Sure a perfectly pristine work area suggests no work is done. But clutter doesn't necessarily mean just the opposite. For those of us who live with it around our work areas, it often becomes a huge time waster, as we go hunting for part of this project or that one, or the piece of mail we know came in a couple of days ago. I don't know about anyone else, but having stuff heaped around me eventually becomes a big drag on me emotionally, too. And that makes a great deal of sense. Why wouldn't we feel overwhelmed mentally when we are physically overwhelmed with stuff?
I used to periodically do a major office cleaning, which could take me a couple of days, during which time I would entertain Original Content's readers by writing here about the things I'd found. It's been a long, long time since I've been able to get all the way through an office cleaning because there are more and more work tasks these days. I've covered all the nonwriting writers do before. And even back when I was able to shovel out from under so much stuff, it didn't take long to find myself in the same mess again.
Cleaning is one skill. Maintaining is quite another.
Now, I've just begun my clutter reading. This is a subject, like self-discipline, that we're going to keep coming back to the rest of this year. (Now I'm wondering if maybe I'll have to continue with this into 2013.) One of the suggestions I saw for maintaining a clean work area was to spend a few minutes cleaning up at the end of the day before you finish work. As with other time management recommendations, that plan assumes we all have some time at the end of the day, every day, to be able to do anything. It doesn't recognize that no one, no matter what they do for work, can control other people. (That's basic zenniness, folks. We cannot control others, only our responses to them.) During that final ten or fifteen minutes of the day when we're trying to work out what on our desk can go into files, be thrown away, sent to someone else, etc., our phones are continuing to ring. E-mails are continuing to arrive. If we're in some kind of traditional office, people are continuing to come into our workspace. Not only are we being interrupted, any of these interruptions could require so much of us that there's not going to be any time at the end of the day for tidying up. Or, worse, any of these interruptions could require more clutter, as files are pulled, notes are taken, etc.
"Clean your desk at the end of the day" is a solution that assumes we live static lives. If only that were the case.
Next week I'll write about what I'm trying to do to deal with the clutter in my office. In the meantime, if anyone else has solved this problem, don't keep it a secret. Let us know.