How to Unclutter Your Office in One Afternoon

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on March 1, 2013
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When you’re running a small business, there never seems to be enough time in a day, yet your to-do list — and the stress that accompanies it — is endless. Although organizing your office may seem like a task you can’t possibly squeeze into your schedule, a clutter-free environment can make the pressures of entrepreneurship more manageable.

Sherrie Bourg Carter, psychologist and author of High-Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, says that clutter creates an environment of over-stimulation, causing your visual, tactile, and olfactory senses to work overtime. In turn, you feel anxious and unable to concentrate.

Here are five tips from organizational experts that can help you unclutter your office in just a few hours.

1. Use technology. You don’t have to be tech savvy to benefit from a few productivity apps for your smartphone. Eliminate stacks of business cards with CamCard, which saves the data to your address book automatically when you snap pictures of the cards. Keep virtual to-do lists and sticky notes with Evernote. If you resist trashing old documents out of fear that you may one day need them, turn your smartphone into a scanner with CamScanner and send them to your computer’s desktop.

2. Make sense of your paper trail. In a national CareerBuilder survey, 36 percent of workers reported having paper files from more than a year ago. To unclutter your office, organizational expert Jill Pollack suggests starting with your physical inbox. “If you haven’t dealt with the papers in it least for at least six months — they’re obviously not that important,” she says. Instead of using your desk as a dumping ground, store all documents that don’t require immediate attention in a file cabinet. Set up a simple filing system. Pollack says that people often unintentionally create confusing, inefficient systems that they quickly abandon. Her rule of thumb: Generalize with broad categories and use a color-coded system (versus an alphabetized one). “If the files are in a convenient spot, you are more inclined to use it and keep it tidy,” she adds. Drawers should be easy to open and close, with enough space to reach into the files easily.

3. Keep your email inbox up-to-date. Clutter isn’t limited to physical items. If you check emails from a smartphone, your inbox can quickly become a repository for all messages. Organizational expert Andrew Mellen suggests dedicating your email inbox to a single purpose: Messages that you haven’t yet read. Start a new email filing system that uses similar categories to your paper folders. Once you’ve organized your messages, apply Mellen’s three-point system for email management: Read it, reply to it, and file or delete it.

4. Design your office for comfort. Throw out or recycle inkless ballpoint pens, dried out Sharpies, half-used pads of paper, and broken staplers. Snap a picture of your whiteboard if it contains data you need, store the information digitally, and wipe it off, Pollack advises. When you organize stuff you use frequently, group “like with like” items — and keep everything in one place. If possible, avoid using your office to store excess inventory or product samples. Finally, add special touches that make you happy: Invest in a comfortable chair or decorate with plants, a relaxing fountain, or a cozy rug.

5. Finish the job. Nothing derails an afternoon of organizing like postponing the grand finale. If your clutter purge has created piles to be donated to charity, papers to shred and recycle, or trash to take to the dumpster, don’t delay: Get rid of the leftover items now!

Stephanie Christensen is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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