If you don’t hot-desk or have a clear-desk policy that works, the chances are your desk can sometimes (maybe frequently!) look like a bomb has hit it. So, before you lose another piece of paper or spend far too long looking for something that’s probably not there, here are the top ten tips to help you clear the paper clutter:
1. Sort your paper into four piles: Action, Read/Pass On, Filing and Junk. The last one is easy to deal with: ask yourself whether it would matter if you lost it. If not, why are you keeping it? If there isn’t a very good business reason to do so, or if you can get another copy easily, then bin it.
2. Action! That piece of paper is probably on your desk to remind you to deal with it. So diary the deadline and put away the piece of paper: file it, bin it, pass it on or, if you must keep it, use a bring-forward system (see number 8 below).
3. Read it. Are you ever really going to read it? How many times have you said ‘I’ll read it if I have time’? If you are going to read it, diary the date and put away the paper in a drawer or reading file until the time comes. Be realistic about it and be wary of saying, ‘I’ll read it when I get a minute’.
4. Pass it on. If you need to get replies to something, write (or attach) a note on the paper, diary a time to chase it up and then pass it on. If you need to keep a copy, put the copy in your bring-forward system.
5. File it. (There’s that dreaded F-word again!) Filing is probably one of the most important tasks to be done, and done correctly, in an office. Unfortunately, it is usually afforded the lowest priority. So to avoid things piling up, make sure you file routinely. Set a time and duration to do it and stick to it. People will soon accept your routine time away from your desk for filing, especially as it doesn’t take long if you do it regularly.
6. Get rid of your in tray and pending tray. These are breeding grounds for crises, clutter and loss of time. They can also look untidy and thus add to the clutter.
7. Handle each piece of paper only once. Stop wasting time by frequently picking up and looking at things you have to do. If it comes in today, deal with it today: put it into one of the four categories to be dealt with.
8. Use a bring-forward system (concertina file, plastic wallets, tabbed book, etc.) to store papers for future action dates. Educate others to use it too, so you avoid paper arriving on your desk without being acted upon.
9. Alternatively, scan and attach your paper to your electronic diary or reminder system. That way the paper’s gone but you will not lose it or forget about it.
10. If you really want to clear the clutter, don’t try to do any of this. Do it!