Last week I began writing about clutter and its impact on how we use our time. The impact is not good, in case you didn't read the first post. Hunting for lost items or items you think you remember, but once you find them realize were not what you wanted, after all, is not a good use of time. How can we deal with this?
Clean Your Messy Desk, Lest Ye Be Judged, which appeared recently at Bloomberg Business Week, didn't seem as if it was going to be very helpful, as far as I was concerned, because I work in almost total isolation. I truly don't have to be concerned what anyone thinks of my workspace, and, thus, I'm not. However, the author quoted Katherine Trezise, president of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, regarding one of the people used as case studies in the article. The person in question said he needed his mess. “I put stuff on my desk because I like to be able to see everything I have to work on.” Trezise responded that such people “feel like they have to have visual
cues or they won’t get anything done. But if you have everything sitting
out, it eventually becomes like wallpaper.”
I think both people come very close to perfectly identifying why office clutter exists. We do need to see what we're working on. We do need those files, the books we're taking notes from, the letters that we need to respond to. What happens, though, when we get interrupted? What happens when we're interrupted by a new task that needs to take priority for the rest of the day...part of a week...most of the next month? We can't take care of the "visual cues" relating to the first job(s) because they're not done. We need to be able to pick up where we left off at some point, right?
So all the materials relating to all these unfinished tasks pile up and up until we can get back to them. That could be a long time, because while we've put aside Task A because Task B came in and required immediate attention, Task C is about to drop on our desks. Okay. Task C needs to be done, but then Task D turned up and that's even more important, so we put Task C over with Task A, which is still open and waiting.
And, that, lads and lasses, is how office clutter happens. Well, that and the filing we keep putting off.
What to do? What to do? Here's what I'm trying:
1. I've created a "Status" form. All this trial form has on it are the words "Status," "Date," "Work Done With This," "Plan To Do." I'm making these for projects I've had to stop working on. The form is going in the file or being attached somehow to the materials I can no longer work on, and then the item is being...put away. In one case, journals have actually been put back on their shelf. In another, a stack of paper with a form has been placed in one of the horizontal files (the Marketing horizontal file, to be specific) on my desk. I'll admit, a third project is still floating around a bit with its "Status" form clipped to it. But I have been working on that particular project regularly, unlike the two I've actually put away.
2. Simply putting these things away with a "Status" form is useless, if, over time, I forget about them because they're out of sight and out of mind. (Unlike the situation when they were just heaped on my desk. Then they were in sight and out of mind--wallpaper, as Trezise said.) I have a couple of small white boards on a cabinet in my office (from a series of other attempts I've made over the years to better manage time and effort). I'm using one of them to list Open Projects. The idea is that when I have a free moment (Ha!) I can keep referring to that board for projects I should be finishing.
Yeah, I'll let you know how that works.
Next week, I'll address the issue of cleaning the desk when you have no time to do so, and then keeping it clean, which I touched upon last week.