Male hands using computer keyboard with papers on desk, overhead view
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Your Messy Desk Is Ruining Your Career

Dec 29, 2014

So you've made the New Year's resolution to clean out your closet and your garage. Great. What about your office or cubicle?

A disorganized, sloppy workspace detracts from your ability to focus and get tasks completed efficiently. Physical clutter has a funny way of creeping into your head and creating mental distractions, say pro organizers. Here are their best tips for corralling your stuff.

Give your stuff a designated home. "Flat surfaces seem to attract clutter like a magnet," says Donna Smallin, author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness (Storey 2014). "Before setting anything down, ask yourself, 'Is there where this belongs?'" she says. To keep your desktop from becoming a sea of papers, coupons and memos, buy or make different spaces for different types of items.

Revamp your to-do pile. Rather than have one big, overwhelming pile of paper (that you'll probably never wade through), create "action files," suggests Barry Izsak, past president of the National Association of Professional Organizers and owner of Arranging It All. "There are two types," he says. "There are permanent action files for the tasks that we will never be finished with." Bills to pay, letters to write, people to call — you'll always have these kinds of tasks, so keep permanent folders for these kinds of tasks. "The other type of action file is a temporary action file... for the projects that have a beginning, a middle and an end," Izsak says. Label them with the specific name of the person, project or task.

Figure out if you need visual cues. If you'll forget about something as soon as you aren't looking at it, Izsak says your action files should be right on top of your desk. "Create this system... in a stair-step folder holder or with hanging files in a desk top hanging file folder," he says. If that's not your speed, he suggests using the file drawer of your desk or an easily accessible file cabinet drawer. "It really doesn't matter what you do, as long as you create and use it," he says.

Keep all the things you travel with in one place. Not only will this make your space neater, it'll prevent you from forgetting things, says pro organizer Standolyn Robertson, who owns the company Things in Place. "In the office, [use] a credenza, desk drawer or even a canvas bag on your coat hook," she says. "Get in the habit of putting things there that will leave with you." This is where you should stick your keys, phone, train pass, empty lunch bag or food containers, newspaper and umbrella.

Have multiple charging stations. If you plug in your phone, tablet and so on every day when you get to the office, you'll probably have ugly wires and cables hanging all over the place. "The transition to laptops and tablets has led to pop-up work stations at home and work," Robertson says. Eliminate that by investing in duplicates and tucking the plugs and most of the wires out of sight on your desk or a cabinet. (You can use magnets if you have a metal surface, or zip ties for bundling cables out of sight behind furniture.) Robertson points out that this also prevents the problem of leaving a charger behind and lightens your commuting load.

Get your junk off the floor, already. "The floor is not the place to store or hide the things or piles we don't know what to do with," Izsak says. "Everything needs a home to keep our offices productive and clutter-free and the floor space under our desk is not that place."

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