This article was last updated on November 5, 2016
We’ve all heard the phrase, “time is money.” Most high achievers recognize just how precious a commodity time is. Between demands on time at work and at home, it can be maddening to look up at the clock and realize you’re out of time.
What if there was a way to give yourself more time so you spend more of it interacting with clients, delivering on deadlines and exceeding goals?
There is, and it’s both simple and difficult all at once: get organized.
Some experts estimate that we spend over an hour every week looking for lost items. So being organized is one way to find an extra hour in every week, or even more if you are notoriously disorganized. We also know that beyond lost physical items, often projects or simple “to-dos” can be forgotten or lost when there isn’t a clear organization of responsibilities and tasks.
Adding order to your life at work will ensure that you make the most of your time at the office, and that you can leave knowing you’ve spent your time wisely, focused on goals instead of searching for lost documents and files. Here is a guide to how to organize your office like a boss.
How to Organize Your Office Like a Boss
Adapt a Proven Approach
You don’t have to come up with a method of organizing from scratch. In fact, there are many proven approaches that have stood the test of time. For example, in Japan in the 1940s the Kanban method was developed and now it is used to decrease clutter and increase focus.
The Kanban method relies on the fact that we benefit from visualization, and uses a written display to focus on tasks and show progress from an incomplete task to a finished on. List your tasks under different headings, like:
- To Do
- What I’m Working on Right Now
This easy way of organizing workflow also lets your coworkers and supervisors know where their project of interest stands in the pipeline.
Beyond methodologies that organize workflow, there are also proven approaches to organize the space itself. The minimalist movement encourages workers to remove all of the extra clutter from their workspace, like those books you haven’t touched in years or the files stacked so high you can’t see your coworkers. Clutter like this is distracting and takes focus away from your important work.
Start With Your Desk
Even if you don’t end up subscribing to a particular approach, the basics can help you get organized. Approach your current office with gusto:
- Is this book, file or piece of paper mission critical? If not, recycle it, delegate it or file it away in cabinet. Get into the habit of keeping only the essentials. Be a persistent paper shredder, especially when you have the same files on your computer.
- Set up an “in progress” spot on your desk. Leave memos, unpaid bills, unread white papers and more in this section until they’re completed. Having a designated spot for your incoming and in progress work will prevent your desk from disappearing under paper.
- What about those handy-dandy office supplies? Keep only the items you use every day out on your desk for all to see. Unless you’ve got a job that requires a lot of taping or stapling, you probably only use those bulky items once a week or even less. Keep them in an easy to reach drawer instead of out gathering dust and taking up precious space.
- Take a long, hard look at your bookshelves. Only keep the items that you’ve used in the past year, like reference books, thesauruses and style guides. Most magazines are available online to subscribers, so toss those old editions as well.
Get a fresh perspective on your office by standing in the doorway — or cubicle opening — and seeing what your boss or colleagues see when they come to talk to you. You may feel pretty organized from behind your desk, but what do they see? You may be presenting a more disorderly version of yourself than you realized.
You may need to repeat these steps every few weeks until you get in the habit of relentless organization. Clutter has a way of creeping back like a weed.
Organize Your Digital Life as Well
Most workers often spend time searching for digital files as well. Did I store that email under “follow up,” “urgent” or my boss’s name? If you spend a lot of time looking for files on company shared drive, personal files and within your email, it’s probably time to organize your digital life as well.
Using subfolders is one great way to get organized. You may have your high-level tasks as folders on your company drive, like “client leads,” and then separate them by type or person’s name within subfolders. As you build your directory, you may have several file folders, so pay attention to times when you have difficulty locating a digital document. That may signal that it’s time to readjust your system.
Leave only items that still need addressed in your email inbox. Once an email has been read or addressed, file it into a clearly marked subfolder. That will help you keep focused on the tasks in progress, and will save you from re-reading old messages to make sure they are complete.
If you have a digital version of a file saved in email or on your computer, don’t keep a hard-copy version as well. There is no need to clutter up your workspace.
Don’t Ignore Common Spaces
You may need to ask permission before making improvements to shared spaces, but this can also be a great way to add time to your day and offer a service to your colleagues. If the shared supply closet is a mess, you may spend five or ten minutes searching for paper clips. If the mailroom is overrun with packages, interoffice envelopes and letters, it might be hard to find your own.
Use your newfound organizational prowess to help the entire company. Suggest clearly labeled boxes for packages, interoffice mail and letters. If you organize office supplies, it will give everyone more time to achieve their goals. And remember, all boats rise with the tide.
Use Technology to Get Organized
Technology offers lots of opportunities to bring more order to your work. For example, you can ditch the paper calendar and those huge desk calendars by moving to a digital calendar. Outlook’s built in calendar is great for scheduling meetings and sharing schedules with your colleagues, and your smartphone has a calendar feature that can integrate Outlook with Google calendars and others.
You can move your task list online by using apps likes Wunderlist, which also let you share your to-dos with others, be it your significant other or boss. Bye-bye written to-do list and hello cleaner desk.
Getting organized is an investment in yourself and your future success. Organization is one of the only ways you will find more time in your busy day. Practice each tip above, and you’ll be on your way. You’ll signal to your colleagues and supervisors that you are clear thinking and efficient, and that you focus on what really matters.
- Adapt a proven organizational method to use in your office, like the Kanban method.
- Develop a method for dealing with incoming and outgoing papers on your desk.
- Keep few top-level folders on your computer and make use of sub-folders.
- Clean up shared spaces in your company or co-working space with labels or bins.
- Make use of your email calendar to keep track of events and use apps like Wunderlist to replace your paper to-do list.