Three places clutter hides at work

Clutter plagues the workplace in many ways, but these three areas are most often the worst offenders:

  1. Filing cabinets. At some businesses, filing cabinets are merely graveyards for old papers. Keep only the papers and files that you must and recycle (or shred) the rest.
  2. Language. Using buzz-words and let-met-try-to-impress-you language in your writing and speech can cause confusion, reduce productivity, and waste resources. A good rule of thumb is that if you can find the phrase in Unsuck-It‘s dictionary, you should think twice before using it. Direct language that is simple to understand will save you time and improve your communication skills.
  3. Top of your desk. The only items that should be on the top of your desk are the equipment you use at least once a day and the project you are working on currently. Pack up your project when you move on to the next task (I like using one flat file per project), and store in drawers and cupboards items you don’t use daily.

Meetings and cable clutter typically round out the top five hiding spots for clutter in offices. Where is the clutter in your office? Schedule 10 minutes a day to address your clutter issues and in a few weeks your office can be the last place clutter will be able to hide.

15 Comments for “Three places clutter hides at work”

  1. posted by Debra on

    A few years ago I went to a programming conference and one of the presentations I went to had top 10 productivity hints. One was “clean you desk every day.” Since then, I’ve done that before leaving the office each day.

    When my co-worker and myself returned from the training we had to give a presentation to our other co-workers and I mentioned this hint. Our boss said, “what do you mean clean you desk?” and “but what do you mean take everything off your desk?” and “what do you mean every day?” It was like she just couldn’t wrap her brain around it.

  2. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    I have two other essentials for the top of my desk: my water bottle, and a soft spot for the cats to curl up. (Maybe these could fall under the category of “equipment I use every day,” if you define that VERY broadly.)


  3. posted by Sinea Pies on

    Wish I could fit my dog on my desk, but a 126 pound lab? No! LOL.

    There is a very successful payroll company headquartered in Rochester Ny that became locally famous for it’s creator’s insistence that, at the end of the day, only one file be left on your desk. The “today” file. It was the work that should be done the next day. I think they had a “no more than three things on the desk at any given time” policy, as well. I’m sure that every desked looked great. Not sure how it can be done all the time but they obviously did it! They’re still in business so SOMEBODY still works there.

  4. posted by Beth on

    My company is a provider of outsourced accounting services – so we often work in our clients’ offices – many times sharing a desk. My boss always insists on the area being clean when we leave – in many cases looking better than when we got there!

    Fortunately, I am a neat freak. But I asked her once – “what would you have done if you found out I was a slob?”. Her response – “you wouldn’t be working for me!”

  5. posted by Beth on

    PS – I love those flat file project boxes – I have several I utilize in my office!

  6. posted by Lain on

    Another spot: In your in-box, virtual or physical. Lots of stuff gets stored there with no home. When I remember that clutter is a delayed decision, I can zip through these physical and virtual in-boxes and finally force myself to make a decision on things, one way or another!

  7. posted by Jen on

    Amen to #2 – language.

    Nothing is more irksome than reading or hearing buzzwords except being considered inferior for not using them!

  8. posted by Freddy on

    When I leave the office at night the only things on my desk are my computer, keyboard, monitor, and telephone. I have a calendar on one wall and some papers with phone numbers clipped together hanging from a pushpin on the other wall. During the day I also have a coffee mug and water bottle and if I have to take a package to the post office, it will stay on my desk until I go.

    The work is pretty much paperless but it is amazing how some of my coworkers manage to print off so many papers and get their desks so messy with all the clutter including little knicknacks.

    I also make a point to wipe everything down a few times a week.

    Now, my drawers aren’t quite so uncluttered but they contain nothing I don’t need. I still have quite a bit of uncluttering to do at home but it is nice to have my desk perfectly uncluttered while I’m at work.

  9. posted by Another Deb on

    I have to cover classes for other teachers on a regular basis (like today with 1 minute notice). Arriving cold in another person’s classroom is disconcerting enough with 30 or more unfamilar 7th or 8th graders staring back at you. It makes it worse if you have to dig around for seating charts, the “right” pile of handouts, instructions, etc.

    I teach from a lab bench that contains the laptop and the roll book with seating charts on a clipboard. I have no desk area other than that. The lack of distractions helps me get a lot more done on my prep hour than moving papers around (like I do at my home desk) and a sub could not help but find anything I left for them there.

  10. posted by Rue on

    I think 90% of what’s in filing cabinets is trash. Case in point – one my coworkers had three filing cabinets in her office. She got some new cabinets so she finally went through what was in all the old ones, and probably chucked at least half of it.

    I so want this office to go paperless but everyone else here is so old-fashioned that I don’t ever see it happening. πŸ™

    There are two things I keep on my desk that I don’t necessarily use every day: My tape dispenser, and a pencil cup full of various pens and other writing utensils. I keep the cup on my desk for the specific reason that it contains pens I don’t care about, so if someone takes one of them it’s not the end of the world. I keep the pens that I really like in my desk so no one will take them πŸ™‚

    I’m also a firm believer in cleaning off your desk every day. It’s the same concept as making your bed every morning – it’s great to start fresh every day! There are days when I leave things (neatly) piled on my credenza, but those are basically my “today” piles – the stuff I’m going to work on the next day. Anything I’m done with gets mailed off or filed away before I leave for the day.

  11. posted by Julia on

    Oh. Gosh. As a “starter” goal, can I aim for “clean desk once a week?”

    I have a tiny, tiny office (it used to be a closet – I’m not joking) and storage space is at a minimum. I’m slowly getting to the point where I have more info on the network than on paper but —

    Looking to my left I see five plants, plant food, coffee cup, label maker, hand lotion, three files, a binder, and a pencil cup. In front of me, notes from last week’s conference, post-its, keyboard, mouse, 2 monitors. To the right – don’t even go there.

    I’m not even sure where to begin.

    Okay. Five minutes a day, and if I clear out my 2-drawer file cabinet maybe I can find an out-of-sight place for some of this stuff. But the plants are staying – I need the oxygen!

  12. posted by WilliamB on

    Re Filing Cabinets: I agree. Sometimes, though, you have to keep papers for a period of time before you can know that they’re no longer needed.

    Re Language: oh, so true! I have worked hard to learn to write in clear language that is accessible to all (most?) readers. Now I find myself doing a job in a field unusually full of jargon and regularly dinged on my self-evaluations because my language doesn’t match the criteria language. I’m sure you can guess why: the criteria language is full of jargon and I was writing in plain English. Time to learn to use both, I guess.

    Re Clean Desk: An empty desk is pretty but the criterion should be what is most effective for the business and the worker. Is the desk in customer view? Is the papered desk a sign of disorganization or just projects in play? Do projects interact with each other? Does the employee know what’s on the desk and where to find documents (true for online as well as physical)? What is the nature of the work? For example, does the job require creativity because for some, having many things out helps spur creativity.

    There are numerous studies that show some people work best by keeping paper out till either the task is done or the content has been absorbed and the paper can be thrown out; whereas other people work best when only one project’s papers are out. As a manager I prefer to work with what makes my employees most productive and satisfied rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

    I encourage my paper-in-view types to sort through their stuff every so often, adding a half day to all deadlines to create the time to do so. My employer has Clean Out Days 3-4 times a year, for the same purpose: clear out filing cabinets, clean up papers, wipe and vacuum offices.

  13. posted by Lianne Lavoie on

    Everything’s on top of my desk. But that’s because my desk doesn’t have drawers… I don’t have a filing cabinet either. It’s basically a table. πŸ˜› It’s not bad, though. I think my desk is fairly clear. I’m a computer scientist so I don’t really need much in terms of supplies.

  14. posted by klutzgrrl on

    I was just thinking that I needed to declutter my files. I started using a bit of the ‘gtd’ philosophy of ‘file everything’ with papers put in logically-named files and no ‘misc’ – but it means that there’s probably more actual cardboard file in the boxes than there is contents.

    This year I’m switching as much stuff as I can to electronic billing – there’s no need for so much paper anymore.

  15. posted by chacha1 on

    WilliamB – right on. You sound like a good manager!

    I’m actually looking at my desk right now, thinking of what I could take off of it. It’s a poorly-designed work area (half-height wraparound “cubicle”), too deep and insufficiently wide with no shelves, which means rarely-used things are on the work surface shoved to the back wall and work in progress is right up front. Functional but not all that tidy-looking (though compared to others in the group, it’s pristine).

    In general, my solution is to do stuff as efficiently as I can and then get rid of it. πŸ™‚ My files are very organized. But at the moment I am in a PMS fit and clutter of any kind is setting me off!

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