How is disorganization and clutter affecting your job performance?

If you showed up late to a meeting or missed a deadline, it would be obvious to you that disorganization and clutter were affecting your job performance. There are less obvious ways, however, that being disorganized can impact the quality and efficiency of your work. Take this quick quiz to see if it might be worth your time to become more organized:

  1. Do you spend less than 60 percent of your day focused on the most valuable work for your job?
  2. Do client/supervisor requests often linger unanswered for more than 24 hours?
  3. Do you ever feel like you don’t know where to start working on a project?
  4. Do you have action items on your to-do list that have been there for more than a week? a month?
  5. Have you led a meeting without providing an agenda to its attendees?
  6. When you come into work in the morning, does it take you more than 15 minutes to start doing work-related tasks?
  7. If something happened to you, and a qualified replacement would need to step in to work for you for awhile, would she be constantly frustrated or have to pick up the phone to have you help her find things she needed?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, disorganization and clutter may be negatively affecting your job performance.

Start by opening your calendar and scheduling an hour every day this week to focus on organizing. These hours will not be wasted, as your improved efficiency will quickly make up for the time expenditure. Here are some tips that correlate to the questions above.

The first question: To ensure that you are spending 60 percent or more of your day on your most valuable work, you need to plan each day before you start work. You may not follow your plan exactly, but the act of creating your plan will help you to stay more focused on the important work.

The second question: Even if you’re just sending an e-mail or making a quick phone call saying that it will take another day to get back to someone, contact within 24 hours is essential for good client/supervisor relations. Schedule 15 minutes after lunch and at the end of your work day to process these requests.

The third question: If you work in an office that has a preferred project management software, take a class or online seminar and learn how to effectively use this system. If your office doesn’t have such software already in place, research online project management tools and find the one that works best for you. Then, learn how to use it and take advantage of its features.

The fourth question: When planning your day, schedule 30 minutes to focus on these lingering tasks. Keep scheduling time for these activities until you are able to cross all of them off of your to-do list. Then, make a commitment to never let an action item linger on your to-do list for more than a week (or two, based on your type of work). These lingering items create a great deal of anxiety, and that anxiety can slow you down.

The fifth question: A meeting without an agenda can be a waste of time for everyone involved. Learn how to organize a business meeting so that it’s valuable to you and its attendees.

The sixth question: Before you leave work for the day, make sure your desk and supplies are prepared for tomorrow. You need to be ready to “hit the ground running” immediately when you arrive to work.

The seventh question: If you’re out of the office for any reason (emergency, illness, vacation, sudden promotion), someone should be able to come in and take over your work without much difficulty. Unless you are self-employed (and even then, you may have legal responsibilities to your clients), you do not own your work or the materials used to complete that work. Keeping this simple fact in mind can often help to keep you more diligently organized.

Good luck, and I hope that in a matter of days your organizing efforts begin to show you great rewards.

22 Comments for “How is disorganization and clutter affecting your job performance?”

  1. posted by Handy Man, Crafty Woman on

    I’m pretty guilty about # 4. (items on my to do list for over a week or month.) I’m really trying to change that! That list DOES create anxiety. Off to do some of those items NOW!

  2. posted by Amanda on

    Very, very timely post. I am a lot better than I was in my 20s, especially now that I have a job I love, but I am still very guilty of most of these (I am really, really good at #6 – sometimes it takes an hour – embarassing).

  3. posted by Laura on

    On the fourth question: I’d say that before you start spending 30 minutes a day on “lingering” tasks, you take a hard look at them to see if they enough value to complete. Sometimes there are good, high-value tasks that get lost in the to-do graveyard (i.e., not urgent but important), but some of the items are bound to be clutter themselves, and should just be dumped from the task list. Then, make sure you aren’t putting low value tasks on you to do list in the first place.

  4. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Laura — Great addition!

  5. posted by chacha1 on

    Sometimes it is just as simple as turning off your cell phone, taking down all the cute cartoons, unbookmarking the entertaining websites, and, you know, turning your workspace into your WORK space.

    I would also suggest requesting the advice of an outsider. Sometimes we can’t see where we are getting in our own way. If you feel overwhelmed, backed up, anxious, or otherwise impaired in your workflow, or if you just suspect that you are not as productive as you maybe should be, the outsider view can be invaluable.

    One way to do this is to take a couple of photos of your workspace and show them to a trusted friend. Have him/her ask you why each thing is in the area. Having to explain it from a distance may help you assess whether you truly need each thing on the desk and/or its level of importance to your workflow.

    BUT you have to be willing to take whatever someone says without getting huffy/offended/defensive/argumentative. Remember that opinion doesn’t necessarily equal judgement, and most people, when asked to help, aim to HELP, not attack.

  6. posted by infmom on

    I think often it’s the case that someone who can’t get organized in the office has no idea how long any given task will take. They just come up with some ballpark figure and wing it, and when the job turns out to take a lot more time than they guessed, they’re in trouble. It’s tedious, but writing down the start and stop times for every single thing in your life for at least two weeks would give you an external database of time spans to stand in for the internal one you haven’t got.

    And some people don’t know how to deal with interruptions. If you’ve got it in your head that any old person can interrupt you any old time, your work is obviously not your top priority. Learning to let people know that you can’t just drop everything and do what they ask is vital.

    And the corollary, of course, is that even if you do know how to deal with interruptions, sometimes the people who interrupt don’t get the message. In my case, up till two years ago I had no office, just a desk in a regular room. And people figured I was right there, and could look away from what I was doing any time to answer questions they could perfectly well have found the answers for themselves if I hadn’t been sitting there. I tried all kinds of solutions to this, but nothing worked for more than a short time. I finally got pushed over the edge and threw a screaming fit and told my husband (the worst offender) off as eloquently as I possibly could.

    I didn’t feel good about that, at all. But apparently that was what it took to finally get through to him that when I’m working you for pity’s sake LEAVE ME ALONE. Now I have an office with a door that shuts and all’s well with the world. Well, except when the cat starts scrabbling on the door to get in. I can’t reason with him. :)

  7. posted by Fern on

    Okay, I found this unduly hilarious. These apply to me:

    # Do you spend less than 60 percent of your day focused on the most valuable work for your job?

    # Do you have action items on your to-do list that have been there for more than a week? a month?

    # Have you led a meeting without providing an agenda to its attendees?

    # When you come into work in the morning, does it take you more than 15 minutes to start doing work-related tasks?

    Can I change anything to do with any of these? Unfortunately, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’.

    What’s my job? I’m a student in secondary school.

    Don’t believe me? Well, we’ll start with the fact that due to the school-operated buses, I arrive at school 1 hr 15 mins (30 mins before the building is even open!) before the first lesson of the day and work from there…

  8. posted by Another Deb on

    Ok Fern, just for you!

    1. Do you get home from school and can’t remember what to work on for the next day?

    2. Do you take more than 10 seconds of class time to find that homework paper when you need to turn it in?

    3. Do you find yourself cramming for test or pulling an all-nighter to finish a long-term project?

    4. Do you spend more than 15 minutes of homework time just trying to clear a space on your desk to begin?

    5. Are your class notes scattered in more than one binder or journal?

    If you are at school ahead of time, can you come to my classroom and clean aquariums for me? Pretty please?

  9. posted by Liz on

    holy cow…..this hits home

  10. posted by The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Resolution Updates Edition on

    [...] How is disorganization and clutter affecting your job performance? In my own case, I notice a serious downturn in productivity when my office gets disorganized and messy. I’m far better off just stopping for a bit to get things in better order than I am just charging ahead. (@ unclutterer) Related Posts The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: New Years Notes EditionThe Simple Dollar Morning Roundup: Transfer Tuesday EditionHow to Define and Stick To a Successful New Year’s Resolution, Financial or OtherwiseHow I Saved $300 On Software This YearThe Simple Dollar Morning Roundup: Sleepy Reading Edition Did you like this article? You can get the complete text of all the latest articles at The Simple Dollar in your email inbox each morning by entering your email address below. Your address will only be used for mailing you the articles, and each one will include a link so you can unsubscribe at any time. No comments yet. Be the first. Leave a reply [...]

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    [...] How is disorganization and clutter affecting your job performance? In my own case, I notice a serious downturn in productivity when my office gets disorganized and messy. I’m far better off just stopping for a bit to get things in better order than I am just charging ahead. (@ unclutterer) [...]

  12. posted by The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Resolution Updates Edition on

    [...] How is disorganization and clutter affecting your job performance? In my own case, I notice a serious downturn in productivity when my office gets disorganized and messy. I’m far better off just stopping for a bit to get things in better order than I am just charging ahead. (@ unclutterer) [...]

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  21. posted by Salman on

    Hi: I think I’m good and efficient at work under some supervision. But whenever I take up a freelance project I find myself to be absolutely lousy with time and task management :(

  22. posted by vik on

    This sounds fantastic. I have already typed down my own version of tomorrow, and I’ll see how it works.
    But honestly,

    if I last more than 3 days, that’ll be success. I got as far as typing “8.45 – Dissertation time (ch.3),” and I could already hear the voices in my head laughing their head off at my yet another attempt to stick to a routine.

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