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In the beginning there was my messy desk


My wife affectionately calls me Mr. Eighty Percent because I’m fantastic at starting a project with gusto and getting it nearly done before I loose interest (or hope) and get pulled away by some other new and shiny endeavor. It’s pretty clear by my months of procrastination that getting my desk organized is a dreaded task, but I truly hope it won’t end up as one of those nearly done projects.

I’m so envious of the coolest workspace contests and workspace of the week posts on blogs like Lifehacker and Unclutterer. All that clean desk space, all those papers neatly filed and organized, those oh so well hidden cables and cords… -sigh- why oh why can’t my desk be like that? I’ve tried in the past and when my desk does finally get cleaned off it seems to stay that way for a week or two, then it’s back to the just-been-sacked-by-a-horde-of-toddlers look that seems to follow naturally. While I’m by no means an organized person, I do love being surrounded by organization.

I'm plagued by three main problems… electronics (primarily cord) management, dealing with the piles of papers, and keeping track of what is urgent. We'll save what's actually IN my desk for a later post, for now I'm just worried about what's ON my desk.

Step one will certainly be to come up with some kind of system that will work for me. I probably need to think about how I like to work and how my papers, products, and other work clutter ends up in my cube. I’ve heard about processes like Getting Things Done and WSD but I think I need to find one that really works for me.

Step two – PURGE.

Step three…actually I’m not really sure what comes next which is probably why I’m so frustrated with this problem. Any suggestions?

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  45. David Mee December 28, 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    Have a look at the Fujitsu ScanSnap range of scanners – the 1500 range is best. These will scan your piles of paper into PDF files.
    Whilst they come with their own document handling software a better option for me was Evernote ( Cloud storage for anything and everything digital.
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  46. Kim December 6, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    It has been over 21 days so I thought I would check in on your progress. The key to staying organized is maintaining the system you have set up. send my an email if you need a little tweaking to your system…Continued Happy Organizing! Kim

  47. Bo Roe November 5, 2009 at 7:17 am #

    WOW! This has been the most rewarding, fruitful discussion on how I might turn this office mess into being more productive. Here are my thoughts right off…
    Immediately after I finish writing this comment response I’ll be putting a large block of time on my calendar to get started. Once it’s scheduled and there I can be sure to have time for it.
    I need to make a run to my favorite office supply cabinet (or store depending on what I find in our office already) to get some folders and organizers as well as a label maker.
    Find and box that will work as my ‘homeless papers’ box.
    Go buy a front-pocket sized paper calendar. Outlook is dandy and my BlackBerry is helpful (at least when I’m not furious at it), but I feel like I need a paper and pencil solution for my day to day reminders.
    Thank you all for your tips and support!

  48. Bo Roe November 5, 2009 at 7:07 am #

    This makes a ton of sense! It’s a little step that I can handle.

  49. Home Office Organization November 4, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

    Step three is putting your plan into action. If you’ve done step one, you have a plan and if you’ve done step two, you’ve gotten rid of those things which do not serve you. Now you need to put the plan that you made in step one into action.
    The step that I always have problems with is step four: keeping it organized. That’s the one that takes consistency and a regular organizing schedule.
    Good Luck!

  50. Kim Cosentino, Professional Organizer/Owner November 4, 2009 at 2:36 am #

    P.S. At some point you’ll need to clear out each drawer and give each a broad, but specific purpose.
    1. If you are right handed, the top right one can be for office supplies you need regularly.
    2. One file drawer could be for paperwork you need to keep & refer to once in awhile.
    3. If you have another file drawer, you can set up a file folder, as the main home, for each project you are working on or client you are working with.
    4. Another drawer might be for personal items…medicines, lunch items.
    You get the idea. Every shelf, drawer, container in any space should have a broad, but specific purpose or theme. If they do not, you will accumulate, what looks like clutter, in every one and have a difficult time finding what you want when you want it.
    As for the chords…call maintenance. 🙂
    Continued Happy Organizing!
    I Came, I Saw, I Organized
    The De-Clutter Box
    Westmont, IL

  51. Kim Cosentino, Professional Organizer November 4, 2009 at 2:14 am #

    You have a case of flat surface disease. By the looks of it, it’s not too bad. Just in case, I am sending you the cure…
    #1 File, Don’t Pile those papers; think vertical, not horizontal.
    #2 Contain the most recent papers that have come into your office and those that are piled all over your desk, maybe even the floor, in a shoe box size container. Make sure they are standing up (vertical)so that you can flip through them and easily find whatever you might be looking for. Now you have organized paper clutter.
    #3 You’ll find that putting and keeping all your homeless papers in this one spot will make it easier for you to find what you need, when you need it. It also sets a limit as to how much paper can accumulate on your desk. When the container fills up, it is time weed and eliminate.
    #4 Lets go back one step. Go through the papers in your container and you will find 4-8 broad, but specific categories of items you are currently handling. Label a file folder, a home, for each category. If something stumps you, put it in the back of your box. Many times, when you get to it again, you’ll know exactly what to do with it.
    #5 The first thing that will pop into your mind with many of the papers you handle will be “I need to…call, do, write.” You need to take some form of action with the items.
    Here’s the key to getting things done:
    #6 Your calendar. The right calendar for your brain type. In your case using a week at a glance calendar that has lines on each day, to break the alotted space into morning, noon(the middle line)and night, should do the trick. I suggest labeling one of your “Active” file folders “To Do’s”. Before you can put a “TO DO” into the folder, you need to schedule it on your calendar, just like you would a doctors appointment, for a realistic amount of time.
    By writing things down in your calendar, you will not have to remember or keep juggling bits of information in your brain. What a great stress reliever, especially when you write these things in one(1)place by using only one(1)calendar, not five or many notes all over the place… in your pocket, posted on the computer or piled on every flat surface in your office. It doesn’t matter what the calendar costs just as long as you use it. I have used dollar store calendars, for my clients, for the past 15 years.
    As you start to use it, not just for appointments, but for all your activities, you’ll be able to manage your time and things that you need to do. You may be overwhelmed at first, with many things to do. Stick with it. What can be delegated with a sticking note and moving out your door, schedule specific times of the day to return calls, look at the entire week to see when you have time to get a larger project done or break it into smaller increments.
    If it doesn’t need to be done in the next three weeks and has no specific date, number it on a long term “TO DO” list in the back of your one (1)calendar. Review this list at the start of each month to move things onto a specific day when needed.
    Another handy tip is to paper clip the calendar to the week you’re in and one to flip to your long term, numbered “to do” list. Make checking your calendar part of your morning and end of the day routine. Keep it conveniently located throughout the day to schedule all your “To Do’s”, business and personal… bill paying, errands, etc.. Your calendar will become an integral part of your life. It will act as your memory so you don’t have to try & remember everything.
    Your calendar is a tool. Like any tool it has a purpose, but it also may take time to learn how to use it correctly to meet your needs. If you are Calendar Challenged, remember that it takes 21 days to create a habit or routine. You’ll find the rewards of not missing an appointment, paying your bills on time and knowing that you haven’t forgotten anything the biggest reward of all.
    Gaining control of your time, money and life (as well as your flat surface disease) is the true key to anyone’s success.
    Let me know if the cure has worked for you.
    Until then,
    Happy Organizing!

  52. Debbie Jordan Kravitz November 3, 2009 at 11:35 am #

    After purging, your next step can be to assign the remaining items to categories (think “like with like”). Once you have your categories you can next assign “homes” to your items based on the system you’ve decided on. Sometimes an effective system doesn’t become obvious until you see what you’re left with. Remain flexible and it will all fall into place.
    Good luck with your desk!

  53. Lindsay Lebresco November 3, 2009 at 9:20 am #

    Oh it’s not that bad! (though I think I see a lightbulb by your monitor) I’m actually reading “Getting Things Done” now – in hopes of well, getting things done more efficiently. Oh and I can’t wait to hear more about how you solve your cord management issues 🙂

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