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Is office clutter costing you a promotion?

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Are you an office hoarder? The piles of paperwork, boxes of files and discarded coffee cups that you’ve been meaning to tackle may literally cost you a promotion.

A new survey by retailer OfficeMax of over 1,000 adults finds that 90% of Americans believe clutter has a negative impact on their lives and work. A surprising 77% said clutter damages their productivity, in line with previous studies revealing that executives waste six weeks a year searching for lost items and information. Additionally, more than half of all respondents said disorganization impairs their state of mind and motivation levels, while two out of five people said it hurts their professional image.

“If you have a cluttered office, you risk being seen as inefficient or not on top of your work,” says organization guru Peter Walsh, host of Enough Already! on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. “[Disorganization] suggests a degree of incompetence that clouds your abilities. You run the risk of jeopardizing your chance of a promotion.”

In fact, while 35% of people said they’d be ashamed if anyone caught a glimpse of their cluttered workspace, another 40% criticized coworkers’ clutter as evidence that they are lacking in other aspects of the job.

How can you dig yourself out? Walsh and other organization experts offer a simple guide to de-cluttering your way to increased productivity and career advancement.

*Create a Vision for Your Office

Walsh suggests that every professional—whether in a home office, cubicle or corner suite—first consider what they want from their office and ask, Is my office delivering on what I need from the space? The room and every item in it should fuel and motivate work rather than hinder it, he says.

Instead, most people have no systems in place and end up buried under junk. “It is impossible to make your best choices in a messy space,” says Walsh. Not only do workers lose time looking for things, they become overwhelmed, anxious and unfocused by the chaos surrounding them.

Begin an organization plan by identifying how you use the space and establishing zones for different functions. If your job functions are to research and communicate, for example, you likely require a workspace for your computer, a library area for your books, a storage area for supplies and a filing area for your archives. In just five minutes, you’ve created a functional blue print for your office space.

*Give Everything a Place

Desktops and floors are not for storage, Walsh warns. Flat surfaces should be clear and every item needs a designated place.

Walsh likens your office chair to a driver’s seat. In a car, the only tools in front of you are the steering wheel, the gear shift and ignition. At your desk, “the only stuff in the radius of your arms should be the stuff you need immediately.” Rid your desk of visual clutter by paring down the items on top to the essentials only. For most, that means a monitor and keyboard, a telephone, two pens, one notebook, a lamp and one family photograph. Use drawer dividers to segment frequently used supplies like paperclips and tape, and keep other items in the zones you’ve established.

At the same time, day-to-day personal items like clothing will quickly overwhelm an office if they don’t have an assigned space off the floor or desktop, says Jane Brown, founder of organization and design firm Jane Brown Interiors. She suggests hanging hooks for jackets, bags, umbrellas and accessories, so colleagues won’t have to step over your purse or sit on your coat. Plus, know your own habits. You may need to clear a basket or drawer for a gym bag or change of shoes, based on your needs.

*Simplify Paperwork

“Most people spend at least 30 minutes to an hour a day looking for things,” says Laura Stack, president of time-management consulting firm The Productivity Pro. Many of her clients say they are suffocating under emails and towers of paperwork; feeling stressed and out of control. “Physically, it’s in the way. Psychologically, it’s a barrier. You can’t focus because your files start to talk to you, and you have a nagging sense that you’re missing something.”

Stack once worked with an engineer whose office was filled nearly wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with mountains of boxes, files and rolled up maps and plans. There was a narrow path leading from the door to his chair. The engineer felt like he might lose his mind, she says, and his career had stalled. He no longer received important assignments because his managers assumed he couldn’t handle them, putting his career at risk.

Every professional needs an easy paper system, says Stack. Streamline the process with just three hanging files or baskets labeled To Read, To Do, To File. Set days of the week to go through each so that you don’t get behind or feel overwhelmed by the need to do everything at once. Keep files for ongoing projects color-coded and set them apart from your archives. Then, you’ll know exactly where everything is what needs your attention first.

Meanwhile, digital clutter should also be kept to a minimum. Stack says the worst inbox she’s seen had 25,000 emails, with thousands left unread. Organize your digital wasteland using folders consistent with your paper system and with the task functions and reminders built into your email software. Also minimize desktop icons—a loaded screen will instantly trigger a stress response and make it difficult to find anything.

*Establish and Maintain Limits

In the OfficeMax survey, 26% of respondents said they were disorganized because they didn’t have enough space for their stuff. “The issue isn’t space; it’s too much stuff,” counters Walsh. He puts clutter into two categories: memory clutter, which reminds you of an important person or achievement, and I-might-need-it-one-day clutter. Ironically, the more you heap around you in order to feel prepared, the more out of control you’ll appear to coworkers.

Set limits on the amount of stuff you’ll tolerate from the beginning, and challenge yourself to stick to them. Allow yourself one bookshelf. When it’s full, give away one book for every new one that you add. The same goes for filing. When the cabinet becomes loaded, it’s time to de-file, tossing some of the paperwork you no longer need. Walsh says that “80% of what goes into a filing cabinet never sees the light of day.” One pack rat he recently worked with had file boxes of receipts going back to 1989, including receipts for hamburgers that he’d paid for in cash.

Long-term maintenance is as crucial as the original organization plan. Make an appointment twice a year to go through old files, every six weeks to clear out your desk drawers and at the end of every day to put things away.

“The most important 10 minutes of each day are the 10 minutes before you go home at night,” says Walsh. He advises using the end of the day to put things back in their places, toss garbage, clean cups and write out a to-do list. Then, your office will welcome you each morning into an inviting and productive space.

*More Tricks to De-Clutter Your Office

1) Divide Your Office Into Zones

Organization expert Peter Walsh, host of Enough Already! on the Oprah Winfrey Network, suggests that every professional first ask themselves, What do I want from my office space, and is it meeting my needs? After establishing how you want and need to use the space, set up zones for your daily functions. You may require a workspace for your computer, a library area for your research, a storage area for supplies and a filing area for your archives. This will provide a foundation for a more efficient use of space.

2) Keep Only What You Need at Arm's Length

"The only stuff in the radius of your arms should be the stuff you need immediately," says Walsh. Boxes of pens, stacks of papers and old coffee cups need to go. Instead, rid your desk of visual clutter by paring down the items on top to the essentials only. For most, that means a monitor and keyboard, telephone, two pens, one notebook, a lamp and one family photograph in your most-used workspace. Supplies, paperwork and personal items should be kept in the zones you've established for them.

3) Create a Daily Paper System

"The paperless office is a farce," says Laura Stack, president of time-management consulting firm The Productivity Pro. "Most professionals today are buried under paperwork." Streamline the process with just three hanging files or baskets labeled To Read, To Do, To File. Establish set days for each, so that you don't get behind or feel the overwhelming need to do everything at once. For ongoing projects, keep these files color-coded and set them apart from your archives. This way you'll know where everything is and what requires your attention first.

4) Establish Limits

"The issue isn't space; it's too much stuff," Walsh says. Set limits on the amount of stuff you'll tolerate from the beginning. Allow yourself one bookshelf. When it's full, give away one book for every new one that you add to maintain that limit. The same goes for filing. When the cabinet becomes loaded, it's time to de-file, tossing some of the paperwork you no longer need. The long-term upkeep will be just as important as your original organization plan.

5) Sort Your Catch-All Drawer

"Most people throw things into a desk drawer to get them out of sight," says Jane Brown, founder of organization and design firm Jane Brown Interiors. After time, however, they have no idea what’s in that drawer and become anxious even opening it. Brown suggests using drawer dividers to give everything a place, like compartments for paperclips and rubber bands. Then go through the drawer every six weeks and clear out anything that is out of place or isn't being used. And put this task on your calendar, Brown warns, so you that you keep the appointment. (Forbes)

By Jenna Goudreau




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