When you have so much papers and stuff surrounding you in your office (or on and by your desk if you are seated in an open office landscape) that you spend more time than you would prefer shuffling things around to clear some space to work in, as well as looking for things you know are here somewhere, you will eventually get the impulse to clean and clear it all up.
You will work more efficiently with the material you want to direct your attention towards at the moment if you have less old and irrelevant things in sight. With less clutter you will have more space to spread out materials relevant to what you are currently working with, hence enabling a proper overview and making it easier to find what you are searching for since it does not get lost in the general mess.
Perhaps you feel reluctant to get started at first and feel intimidated by the sheer magnitude of the task, but after a while you will feel that it is time to really clean up. You begin cleaning with zest and determination, and start going through whatever is hidden in all the piles. You place a few things due to be returned to others or thrown away in temporary piles which you want to deal with separately later.
Just as you are really getting going, someone knocks on the door. It is your boss who says ”Say, could you come with me for a few minutes; something has come up which we need to solve right away.” You leave your half-finished cleaning-frenzy, and you office looks, if possible, even worse now halfway though cleaning it. The urgent matter you were summoned to solve turns out to be rather complicated, so when you return to your office after a while, you have so many urgent things you need to attend to that cleaning will have to wait.
Uncompleted is undesirable
Semi-implemented structure is almost worse than not having any structure at all. You have begun to create structure which you then do not have time to fully implement and complete, and at the same time you cannot just put materials anywhere since you then ruin the attempt made at developing some structure. I find it stressful to have an idea and ambition to develop a structure-solution which I cannot implement right away. I continue working in an insufficient manner and impatiently hope and wait for an opportunity to follow through with the idea. While waiting for this moment to arise, things are more difficult to find and I do not know where to store new things ”while waiting”.
This also applies to any digital clean up you might need to do.
Balancing on a slackline
Getting started with cleaning your office like this is like going out on a slackline for a moment. We are balancing in a highly temporary state where something can suddenly happen that throws us off and we fall. We are taking a risk by assuming that we will not be interrupted and then not be able to complete our cleaning project, which will result in your office being a frustrating mess for some time.
One way to avoid this scenario is to limit your effort of cleaning up to just starting to clean what you will have time to complete before getting interrupted next time. This way you will not have to live and work in a physical chaos for an undetermined period of time due to biting off more than you could chew.
- Think about how often you usually get interrupted in your work. It can be by colleagues who need your help (and which you want to prioritize helping), incoming phone calls, urgent e‑mails, people who spontaneously visit you, or that you remember how you missed something and now have to drop whatever you are doing since it must be done immediately. Can you manage to work undisturbed for fifteen minutes; five minutes; an hour; half a day?
- Look around. From all the items, papers and so on that surrounds you, what could you deal with in that estimated interval of uninterrupted time?
- If you want to and feel like it; which limited area (such as a shelf, drawer, pile, partial pile, file, disk or something else) do you want to go through and clean out next?
- Decide to clean this chosen area at a particular time. Schedule a meeting with yourself in the calendar and set a reminder to sound a few minutes prior to the activity just in case it would slip your mind.
Clean out without risking to disturb your current structure
If you clearly define a limited area or amount of material which you will have time to go through, clean or clear up before you are presumably interrupted next time, you will be able to get rid of superfluous material as well as maintain a well-functioning structure. By following this simple process you will get to check more tasks off your list as done (and feel good about doing so) than if you waited for those quiet days during the Christmas holidays when everyone else is out of the office when you do your massive effort to clean your office.
How do you keep things tidy?
How do you clean away irrelevant and obsolete material quickly, easily and continuously? Tell me!