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  • Kitti McKay

Turn your Workspace into a Productivity Oasis in Six Key Steps

So many people work from home now that a decluttered space is more essential now than ever. Whether you work from your dining room table, a space in your bedroom or basement, or a designated office, it is imperative to your productivity and mental well-being to be organized.

Now not everyone agrees with me on this! I'm sure you've all heard of or even worked with people, ADHDers or not, who call chaos their "process", and disorder their "filing system".

They're certainly entitled to their opinion but I respectfully submit that this is borne of years of being habituated to a certain workstyle, and an inability or refusal to consider what could possibly be a better way.

So much research shows us how the mental clutter associated with desk clutter can cripple your productivity that it’s difficult to make a logical case for disorder.

Not only will you feel efficient, accomplished, and thorough, but less distraction will give you better focus to finish tasks more quickly - hey, life is short, why not enjoy it?

OK, you’ve decided that you’re tired of stepping over receipt-filled shoeboxes to evict the cat from his bed of papers on the desk before you can even begin to work. But, short of breaking out the Bic lighter, the prospect of clearing the decks seems so daunting - how to proceed?

Your best bet will be to take no more than one hour on a Saturday, Sunday or both to start your journey to clarity. This way you’ll be able to look at your clutter with fresh eyes, unclouded by the mental guilt of work demands. If you’re not sure you can face it alone, enlisting a trusted friend, family member or virtual decluttering advisor can help to tame the overwhelm.

Step 1: Start with the Floor

If the floor looks more like a dumping ground than an inviting pathway, start with that!

Throw away obvious trash, put away Christmas wrappings (yes, I know it's July!) and shove the rest of it to one side of the room to deal with slowly, if need be. That strange feeling that you will experience is actually renewed unseen energy flowing through your room.

Now that you can walk through, take EVERYTHING off your desk except what you are working on this week and put it in boxes in a closet or, better yet, in another room. This includes photos, calendars, books, supplies, and food; these things can invisibly anchor you to the past, and you want to move forward, don’t you?

Step 2: Sort your Stuff into 3 Piles: Keep, File, Toss

This is arguably time-consuming but necessary; it will help you to bear in mind that the clutter did not accumulate overnight and, unless your magic wand has better batteries than mine, it's not going to vanish overnight. Start in one area and assess one item at a time, deciding whether to keep, file, or toss; (Groan!) I know, but trust me when I say that it gets easier as you go along because you are building momentum. Think of The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can …”

Drawers are great but they can also be a seemingly bottomless catchall for pens, staplers, etc. that you’ll “fix someday”. Be realistic and ruthless! When considering photos, calendars, books, use the “when in doubt, take it out” maxim; even removing 50% of these non-essential items will make a massive impact on your ability to concentrate.

Step 3: Toss the Toss Pile

Now that you have your keep, file or toss piles… It’s time to get down to business. Take out the toss pile for shredding, recycling and/or trash. You will be left with two remaining piles now: Keep or File. Let’s work on the filing.

Step 4: File!

My absolute favorite tool to organize papers is the humble accordion file. Available in sizes ranging from 7 to 20 slots, it provides a portable, convenient way to keep your files, important documents and receipts organized all year long. I usually recommend keeping the smaller version strictly for taxes (the government only gives you so many deductible categories!) and the larger one for everything from bank statements to warranties.

Since I’m the kind of person who likes to know that I could move across the country on a moment's notice, I'm a huge fan of the portability of the accordion file, but if you're more of the settled down type, a filing cabinet could work wonders for you, especially if you have a family. One of my clients decided to make a file devoted to his young girls so that he could instantly access medical documents, school papers, and the artwork that would otherwise breed like rabbits on the front of the fridge.

Whether you choose the accordion file or a stand-alone cabinet, remember that regular, systematic use will drastically reduce the need to declutter your office ever again! You’ll also keep those good intentions you had in January to maintain a tidy office to increase your productivity.

Step 5: Organize the Keep Pile

Now that the loose papers are filed away neatly, begin to organize all that’s left over. Find a “home” for these items, whether that be in a drawer or neatly organized in your son’s macaroni art catch-all thingy that will sit atop your desk. A few other tips to organizing your desk and workspace:

  • Small Dollar store baskets can help you organize the contents within your drawers.

  • Group like things together. For example, put all your markers in one basket, sticky notes and sticky tabs in get the point.

  • Try to minimize the amount of “things” on top of your desk. If they fit in a drawer, that’s the best place for them to live.

Step 6: Day’s End Routine

Here’s the best part or the worst part, depending on your point of view: you can declutter and organize until the cows come home from Mars, but you’ll have wasted your time if you do not discipline yourself to put things back where they belong.

Take the last 5 minutes of every day to clear the surface of your desk so you can walk into a welcoming office / workspace in the morning. You’ll probably find that this one habit will spill over into other areas of your home over time, and that will be, as Martha says, “a good thing”.

Now that you’ve turned your workspace from a den of despair to a productivity oasis, relax with a well-deserved square of dark chocolate before your return to productivity!

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