Ask Unclutterer: Dual desks

Reader Cory submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

What are some good solutions for a two workstation/desk in a apartment? I will soon be moving in with someone sharing a one-bedroom apartment and we are looking for an elegant way for us to both have a small desk/laptop workspace in the new place. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

There are various setups available that are similar to what you’ve described. The following are images I’ve collected over the years of two-person desks that I like. You can click on the images to learn more about the desks. I encourage our readers to add their finds in the comments section and hopefully our collective responses will lead you to a solution.

Thank you, Cory, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your email as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Reader suggestion: Staying organized with binder clips

Reader Christine, has a terrific little suggestion for staying on top of paperwork. A traditional tickler file didn’t work for her, so she found a system that did. After learning about her process, I asked if i could share her message to us in the form of a post. Thank you, Christine, for sharing your tip with us!

Like most people, I am constantly battling the paper monster. Though I am making strides in going digital, I had been struggling on how to organize the things I still receive as hard copies. Inevitably, there are things that need to be filed, paid, or acted upon in some way at some time that does not exactly coincide with the moment I first touch them. For me, letter sorters didn’t work — the papers would end up avalanching all over the place or would be sorted incorrectly. I had tried and failed to use a “to do” file folder; I personally benefit from visible reminders and would easily forget about them when I filed the papers.

After seeing small binder clips with “to do” and other similar words printed on them, I was inspired to create my own using regular large binder clips and a label maker. I printed labels on my label maker that read “To Do,” “To File,” and “To Pay,” placed them on the binder clips, and hung the clips on sleek aluminum pushpins on the inside of my coat closet door. The papers are out of sight when I want them to be, but serve as a visual reminder for all my “to dos” each time I open my closet door. The size of the clip also creates a limit to how long I can put off the inevitable.

This idea can be applied in various ways, of course. I can see it working on a bulletin board or wall in a home office, or inside of kitchen cabinets. (These colorful magnetic spring clips could be substituted on a chalk board or other magnetic surface.) You might want to have one by the front door for papers you must bring with you when you travel. This would also be a good way to organize kids’ homework or household information you need to frequently access (for that application, I could see laminated sheets on a ring, with the clips as identifiers). You could also use color-coding — either painting them yourself on regular black binder clips or by purchasing clips in various colors. No matter where, why, or how, it’s a cheap and easy idea that can help you be a little less paper-crazed.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Productivity and organizing insights found in Lean systems

In October 2008, The Wall Street Journal ran the article “Neatness Counts at Kyocera and at Others in the 5S Club.” The article explores a typical day for Kyocera employee Jay Scovie, whose job it is to patrol offices to make sure they are sorted, straightened, shined, standardized and sustained masterpieces of uncluttered glory:

Kyocera’s version of 5S, which it calls “Perfect 5S,” not only calls for organization in the workplace, but aesthetic uniformity. Sweaters can’t hang on the backs of chairs, personal items can’t be stowed beneath desks and the only decorations allowed on cabinets are official company plaques or certificates.

One thing that bugs me about the article is that it doesn’t explain that the rigid aesthetic standards Kyocera implements are not part of the 5S system. Rules prohibiting a sweater on the back of a chair are unique to Kyocera’s “Perfect” 5S processes and not the standard 5S efficiency program.

As an unclutterer and a fan of productivity improving methods, I’m always disheartened when I see extreme examples of efficiency improvement systems discussed as if they are the norm instead of the exception. Programs that strive to increase productivity in the workplace are usually worthwhile systems that increase morale and creative thinking, instead of stifle it. This 2014 article in Harvard Business Review indicates that employees perform better when they can control their space.

If you work for a company with more than 150 employees, you probably are already familiar with at least one Lean system (“Lean” is the buzzword in the business world to mean a program that trims the fat — unnecessary and wasteful processes, methods, systems, etc.). If you’re unfamiliar with Lean systems on the whole, or are only familiar with one specific program, you might be interested in learning more about them. Even if you don’t implement the full systems, simply knowing about their methods can help to improve the way you do your work. I have definitely gained many helpful tips and tricks studying their processes.

There are numerous Lean systems, and each has a different area of expertise. Some can be used together, some are branches of pre-existing systems, while others are stand-alone programs. Different programs fall in and out of fashion, and these are a number of the current heavy hitters and resources that decently explain them:

What are your thoughts on Lean systems? Do you find that they contain useful productivity and organizing insights?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Hiring a professional organizer


Since January is the National Association of Professional Organizer’s Get Organized and Be Productive Month, I’ve asked Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing in Cary, North Carolina, to share her insights with us on how to hire a professional organizer. For many of us, having someone coach us through the uncluttering process can be very beneficial.

If you decide to hire a professional organizer, start by looking for someone who is diplomatic, empathetic, willing to listen, non-judgmental, creative, patient, and trustworthy. Also, to ensure that the professional organizer follows ethical business practices, check your local Better Business Bureau reports and look for someone who is involved a professional organization like the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) in the US. For professional organizing associations in other parts of the world, check the International Federation of Professional Organizing Associations (IFPOA).

It is okay to interview different organizing and productivity professionals to get a feel for who matches best with your personality. Below is a menu of questions you might consider asking when hiring someone:

  1. What are your areas of expertise? (Some possible answers may include: garages, clients with ADHD, time management, wardrobes and closets, financial matters, computer-related challenges, speaking, coaching, writing, estate liquidation, downsizing for seniors, home staging, relocation, etc.)
  2. Are you certified? Insured? (Certification is optional and not required. NAPO has many well-qualified organizers that are not certified for a variety of reasons.)
  3. Do you attend conferences or teleclasses to stay abreast of current organizing trends and techniques?
  4. Do you have local references?
  5. Do you belong to any professional organizations? (I would not hire a professional organizer who is not involved in some type of professional group or organization. To me, a professional affiliation demonstrates not only a commitment to the field but an additional way to check out that person among other business-minded individuals.)
  6. How long have you been in business? How many clients / hours have you worked?
  7. What hours do you work? What days of the week are you available? (Make sure that this person’s availability is a good match for your availability.)
  8. Do you bring the necessary supplies, or do I purchase them separately?
  9. If you purchase supplies or materials at a discount, do you “up charge” or charge an hourly shopping fee?
  10. Do you make arrangements to take away donations, consignments, and trash? If so, do you charge a fee for this service?
  11. Do you work alone or do you have a team of employees or subcontractors, if necessary?
  12. Do you have advertising on your car? (Ask this only if you do not want co-workers or neighbors to know you are hiring a professional organizer.)
  13. Do you take photographs? Will they be on your website?
  14. What is your cancellation policy?
  15. How do you charge? Of course, I don’t need to tell you to inquire about fees but there are many options available, including hourly, by the project, or bulk rates. There may be a minimum number of hours required per booking, too, so ask about that.

Remember that professional organizers and productivity consultants are not housekeepers, therapists, decorators, or nurses unless they specifically tell you that their credentials include these jobs.

NAPO defines Professional Organizer and Productivity Consultant as follows:

Professional Organizer: supports evaluation, decision-making, and action around objects, space, and data; helping clients achieve desired outcomes regarding function, order, and clarity.

Productivity Consultant: supports evaluation, decision-making, and action around time, energy, and resources; helping clients achieve desired outcomes regarding goals, effectiveness, and priorities.

If you have ADHD or any other type of chronic organizing challenge, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization is the place to find a qualified organizer.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

January is Get Organized and Be Productive Month

The National Association of Professional Organizers has once again declared January Get Organized and Be Productive Month!

We love the idea of starting off the year on the right foot, and we hope that you get in on the organizing spirit. NAPO has many events scheduled across the country as part of their Get Organized and Be Productive Month.

Also, Amazon is interested in helping you get organized in January with a number of good deals on storage solutions and organizing books.

Do you have plans to get organized in January? Let us know about your plans in the comments. You can help inspire all of us.

 

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Simple steps for organizing a home office

Today we welcome guest blogger Jason Womack, a workplace effectiveness and productivity consultant. You can find him on his corporate website at womackcompany.com.

If you’ve decided to quit your commute and work from home, one of your big challenges may be maintaining the sanctity of your work area. When your office is disorganized, it can easily become a magnet for bills, toys, receipts, homework papers and even dirty laundry. This clutter can quickly bring your productivity to a screaming halt.

In order to stay one step ahead of the chaos, keep your workspace as productive as you are. Here some ideas to keep a clean desk and a clean path to productivity:

  • Make processing a priority: Processing your inboxes (voicemail, email, paper, and files) clears the deck for your life and work. Every five days, you need to make processing your focus. This weekly overview will enable you to create the space you need in order to work the way you would like.
  • Get it: Take everything out of your briefcase or bag and put it on your desk to tackle.
  • Supply it: Go through your travel and business supplies and replace or restock anything that is low. Also purge and restock an area or two on your desk (fill printer with paper, stapler with staples, water a plant, check the electric plugs by the floor to make sure they are in contact, etc.)
  • Gather it: Put any as-yet-unprocessed notes into the in-basket. These can be from anywhere – meeting notes, Post-its, business cards you have picked up, email messages, or other mail.
  • Update it: Review any papers in your “pending” file to make sure their status is up to date. Also open and review your current project folders.
  • Find it: Check your calendar and your to-do list. On your calendar, look two weeks back and four weeks ahead. If you have any reminders in there, add them to your to-do list. Add to your to-do list by going through the notes in your inbox or other reminders you have. Check off anything you have completed.
  • Assess it: Finally, take an overview of your outcomes and inventory your incomplete goals. Reassess your commitment and decide if there is an action that can be added to your to-do list in order to reach that goal.

If you undergo this weekly assessment of your workspace, you can spend a lot more of your time on your actual work in your home office.

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Tools of the Trade

Do you keep a stapler on your desk? How often do you use it?

What about the other objects taking up real estate on your desk? How many items could live in desk drawers or cupboards instead of on your work surface?

If the top of your desk is cluttered, start by looking at all of the equipment, peripherals, and doo-dads occupying space and decide if some of the objects could find better homes someplace else.

I started this post by mentioning the stapler because most people don’t use them on a regular basis. Paper clips, photocopiers that staple documents automatically, and double-sided printing have reduced the amount of stapling people do at their desks. Clearing the stapler — or broken printer or obsolete Rolodex or whatever you are not using on a daily basis — off of your desk and storing it in a desk drawer is a simple way to give yourself more work space. Except the broken printer… feel free to get rid of that altogether!

You don’t have to make your desk sparse and uninviting, but giving yourself room to move can help boost your productivity by clearing distractions and frustrations from your line of sight. Are there objects on your desk that don’t belong to you? Do you have a small collection of dirty coffee cups and used utensils? What can you do right now to clear the clutter and create a more useful work environment?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

How a home office should function

Reader Amanda recently contacted us with the following question:

Could you write on the idea of how a home office should function?

It seems like an innocuous question at first. Obviously a home office should be used for, um, home office, uh, stuff …

But, it turns out, it’s not such a simple question. Identifying all of the reasons why a person might have a home office and then all of the possibilities for how that home office should function are quite extensive tasks. The specific requirements a single, graduate student, working on his dissertation might have are far different than those of an active family with four children where both parents work outside the home.

It is possible, however, to write about over-arching ideals that should be present in a home office. Here are the big picture goals I believe all home offices can strive to achieve:

  1. Welcoming. Strive to create the most comfortable, productive, inspiring, and organized environment that you can for your work space. You want this area to make boring tasks like filing home owners association documents as pleasant as possible. If your stress level rises when you walk past this space, you’re not going to use it.
  2. Flexible. The demands that you put on this space can change from year-to-year, or even day-to-day. You want your space to be able to adapt to your needs. This means that you need to have room on a shelf and in a drawer to grow — at all times. If your space is completely full, then it becomes a museum or library instead of a functional office. You want your files to be able to accept new entries and your desk to be ready to handle your next big idea.
  3. Consistent. The more consistent your office systems are, the more likely you will be to maintain them. Save files on your computer and in your filing cabinet using names and categorizations that makes retrieval quick and possible. Keep the learning curve low and let it reflect the way you think and work. Additionally, be consistent about putting objects away when you’re finished using them so that you will be able to find them the next time you need them.

Regardless of what type of work you need to do in your office, having a welcoming, flexible, and consistent environment will make it a functional space. The better your office can work for you, the better work you can accomplish in your home office.

How does your office measure up to these standards? Let us know in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

The big picture: Organizing work files

When I was in college, I served on the International Board of Officers for a community service organization. More than 10,000 kids across the world were members of the organization and 11 of us served on the Board the year I was a Trustee. Being on the Board was an incredible experience and it taught me a great deal about leadership, running a large organization, and time management. I was traveling nearly every weekend and I was constantly struggling to stay on top of my school work and other responsibilities.

A girl named Lisa was one of my fellow Trustees. She is one of the most naturally organized people I’ve ever met. If you say that you need something, she will reach into her purse and retrieve whatever it is you requested. You say that we should schedule a meeting, and her calendar is already open. Nothing is left to chance in Lisa’s world. And, since I was completely disorganized, she was definitely a positive influence on me.

At a meeting early in our year of working together, Lisa chided me for having a horrible filing system. I had four notebooks with pieces of paper shoved into them and referred to them as my “files.” After the meeting finished, she pulled me aside and gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received:

“This organization was here before you were a member and will continue on after you graduate. If your files are messy, it’s fine for you now, but you’re not thinking of the people who are to serve after you.”

She was right. At some point, I would have to pass along my “files” to the next group of Trustees. I didn’t plan on being on the Board forever. When I inherited my files from the previous Board, they certainly didn’t look like they did when they were in my possession. I wasn’t inconveniencing myself, I was making things harder on the people who would serve after me.

I went home and immediately organized my files.

Since that day, I’ve always kept organized files for the exact reasons Lisa outlined for me years ago. Eventually, I’ll leave a job and someone else will have to come in to do the work. Or, if I need to take time off, a colleague might need to access the files without me there to point the way. Some files may have personal use, but, on the whole, work files are there to serve as a record for those who come into the job after you leave.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Understanding how you process information to help you get organized, part 2

Now that you’ve taken the quiz to determine if you are a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic/tactile acquirer of information, it’s time for the next step in the process: taking action.

Knowing yourself and your information processing preferences can help you create an organization system that works best for you. Obviously, we can’t cover every possible solution, but these suggestions will hopefully get you headed in the right direction.

Visual processor:

  • Scheduling programs like Google Calendar might work well for you so that you can input and then see all of your appointments on your agenda.
  • In your closet, you’ll want to have a lot of space and only the current season’s clothing on hangers. A hook on the back of a door can be good for displaying your next day’s outfit. You might also benefit from having your folded clothes on a shelf instead of hidden in a dresser drawer.
  • Try your best to have an office with a door. You’re likely to go batty in cubicle land — especially in cubicle land with only waist-high walls.
  • Carry a small digital camera or a cell phone with a camera in it with you at all times so that you can take images of things you need to remember. You may want to use Evernote to process this information.

Auditory processor:

  • Consider setting timers or audio reminders on your computer to help alert you of meetings and other scheduled events.
  • Carry a small recording device with you so that when you have an idea you can record a message to yourself. Most smartphones also have this ability.
  • If you need to share an office, try to get an office with someone who works while wearing earphones. When you talk to yourself, he or she won’t be distracted when you need to talk through ideas.
  • Keep all of your files in alphabetical order to help you find them more quickly.
  • Have a headset for your telephone since you interact more reliably with people over the phone than you do by email.

Kinesthetic/Tactile processor:

  • Feel comfortable pushing your office furniture against the walls so that you have space to move when you need to.
  • Explore non-traditional desks when looking for office furniture. A drafting table or adjustable height table might work better for you than something that has a fixed height and angle.
  • Keep a space for a small fan on your desk and a space heater under your desk.
  • Exercise before going to work in the morning.
  • Have as few objects on your desk as possible so that you’re not tempted to pick them up when you need to concentrate. However, you should also have a stress ball quickly available to squeeze when mulling over ideas or talking on the phone.
  • You probably like to try on different outfits before choosing the best one to wear, so be diligent about returning the non-selected items back to their proper home.

What organization tips and tricks do you employ in your home and office that are crafted toward you information processing style? Please share your insights in the comments!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Understanding how you process information to help you get organized, part I

When you read a book or newspaper article, do you instantly commit it to memory? Or, are you someone who likes to pace the floor when you’re thinking? Maybe you are someone who can hear a lecture and have no need to take a single note?

How you process information has a strong correlation to how you may want to organize your home and office. Strategies that work well for an audible processor might fall flat on someone who prefers to intake information visually. Knowing yourself and your preferences can make a difference in how successful you are at creating an organization system. The two posts in our “understanding how you process information to help you get organized” series will hopefully aid you in creating your profile.

The first step is to begin by identifying what type of an information processor you are: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic/tactile. Take the following quiz to help identify where you fall in the information processing spectrum:

Directions: Add one point to your score for each statement that strongly applies to you. The category with the most points is your dominant processing style. You may have strengths in more than one category.

Visual processor:

  1. I can remember that I need to do something if I write it down.
  2. I need to visualize myself wearing something to make a decision about what I want to wear.
  3. I take copious notes during meetings and often can remember what the page of notes looks like before I remember what the notes say.
  4. I need to look at a person when they’re speaking.
  5. It has to be quiet for me to be able to complete my work.
  6. Seeing data displayed in a graph is vital to me understanding numerical information.
  7. I am horrible at remembering jokes.
  8. I can remember phone numbers if I can visualize typing them on a phone’s key pad.

Auditory processor:

  1. I prefer to listen to books on tape or to read books aloud.
  2. The more I discuss a problem with my co-workers, the easier it is for me to find its solution.
  3. In school, I only needed to attend class lectures to perform fine on the tests.
  4. I remember what people have said before I remember who said it.
  5. I like to complete one task before starting a new one.
  6. A train could be passing through my living room and I would still be able to hold a good conversation with my Aunt Sally on the phone.
  7. When I forget how to spell a word, I sound it out.
  8. At the grocery store, I repeat my list either in my head or aloud.

Kinesthetic/Tactile processor:

  1. When I take on a project, I want to start doing instead of planning.
  2. When I need to take a break from working, I have to get up and move around my office.
  3. I can work effectively in a coffee shop or in an airport waiting area — I don’t need to be at my desk to do work.
  4. I can remember a client’s name better if I shake her hand.
  5. I would like to ride my bike to work, if I don’t already.
  6. I think more clearly throughout the day if I exercise before work.
  7. I am often aware of the temperature in my office.
  8. When I pick up something as ordinary as my stapler, my mind drifts to memories somehow associated with a stapler.

Which category best represented your processing style? I am visual processor with a relatively high score also in kinesthetic.

The second post in the series will provide suggestions for how you can take this information you have learned about yourself and apply it to your organization systems. Stay tuned!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Being organized: A learned behavior

Reasons people give for being disorganized usually align with being too busy or a life changing event (new baby, death of a loved one) or general laziness. These are reasonable explanations and are obstacles that can be overcome.

Every once in a while, however, someone will try to explain to me that they are disorganized because of their genetic makeup. They use phrases such as, “I come from messy people” or “I couldn’t be organized if I wanted to.” Yes, some families are pack rats over the course of multiple generations, but those are learned behaviors. There is not a gene as far as any scientist has found that predetermines a person’s affinity for organization.*

Can growing up in a household of highly disorganized people affect your perceptions and habits? You bet. But does it sentence you to a lifetime of clutter? No!

As with any life skill — time management, cooking, walking — those necessary to maintain an organized life can be learned. You may need to practice these skills, the same way you practice a musical instrument, but you can eventually work to a level of mastery.

I haven’t always been organized. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I used to be the type of person who held onto every object I deemed sentimental. I eventually realized that holding onto so much stuff came with a lot of stress, worry, and financial expense, and that I wanted a different way of life. So, I learned organization skills, practiced them, and implemented them throughout my life. You can learn them, too.

If you’ve convinced yourself that you are destined to a life of disorganization, try changing that attitude! Put in the time, effort, and practice necessary to become the more organized person you desire. No need to go overboard, just find the best level of organization for you that allows you to live the remarkable life you desire.

*I want to note that there is something actually called a Disorganization Gene, but it has nothing to do with clutter. It’s about birth defects and cellular mutations involving the actual genetic code of an animal becoming disorganized. || Image courtesy of wikipedia.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.