Is your office beautiful and productive? Whether you work at home or in a separate office, having a comfortable and attractive workspace impacts your productivity. If we spend a third of our life working, shouldn’t it be in a nice space? I have some extra good stuff to share with you about how to organize your office and organize your office day.
How to Organize Your Office Like a Boss
Did you know that multi-tasking makes you stupid? That’s the headline of an article from the Wall Street Journal in 2003 by Sue Shellenbarger, it’s even more true today.
Research shows that multitasking actually lowers your IQ more than smoking pot! (Skimping on sleep can have a similar effect. This is just one of many studies to show this impact of multi-tasking on productivity.) If you are brain damaged, it’s not so easy to organize your desk!
Multitasking is actually a myth. What’s really going on is that the brain does rapid-fire switching between multiple tasks, which slows down all attempted tasks by as much as 40%. That can turn an 8 hour workday into an 11 hour day. Ouch!
Right, now I’ve got your attention, what to do about multitasking, and why do we think that organizing your office matters?
Organize Your Office with Focus
Build focus. Many people report not being able to focus if they have a lot of visual stimulus in their view, aka clutter. With lots of piles and visual reminders on your cluttered desk, you can’t help but mentally keep cycling through the possible tasks at your fingertips.
Let me just get this email written. Wait, why is my checkbook out? Did I need to pay someone? I need to mail that to Gail. Once I get through all of this I am definitely going to file all this away. Did I feed the cat today? Oh, I need to print that report for my meeting later. Wait, I forgot that I need printer ink…..(falls down into rabbit hole of internet comparison shopping).
If you take 10-20 minutes to clear your desk of distractions, you can easily gain more than that from increased focus during your workday.
Focus is a muscle that you build. Start with 5 minutes of distraction-free work, and gradually work up to 90 minute chunks. Use an audible timer to work in blocks. Nothing kills your focus faster than wondering if your time is up yet.
Protect your focus time. Send all calls to voice mail. Fight the urge to respond to text messages as if they were urgent. Hint: they never are. If you must, put a note on your door that you’re in a focused work session, and will be available for questions at a certain time (maybe an hour after closing your door). It’s harder in a cube workspace, but you can purchase a cube screen or hack a cube door and wear headphones. You don’t even have to have anything playing in the headphones, if that works better for you. Just pretend to ignore office noise, and people will see that you are literally head-down.
Practice filtering out the distractions. Sounds like a no-brainer, but how, exactly, do you exercise that three pound mental muscle between your ears? Mindfulness and/or meditation is a good start, and you can start today. (Meditation is just focused mindfulness controlled for fewer inputs.) Yeah, it’s a little fluffy for me too, until I learned that 5 minutes of meditation each day can be more effective for adults dealing with ADHD than prescription medication.
Organize Your Office with Three Habits
OK, that’s all well and good, but HOW exactly do we organize the physical workspace to combat multi-tasking?
1. Close down browser tabs and apps to organize your day.
Keeping apps and tabs open is like leaving an electrical circuit open just in case. It drains brain resources. Every time you glance at that open tab, you briefly think, “I have to get back to that,” and there’s the possibility of being distracted. When you finish the work on a subject or task, close the tab. This goes 10x for social media like FB and Snapchat.
2. Keep a tickler file to organize your desk.
This is a simple 12-folder system, usually hanging folders work best, that operates very much like a wall calendar, but for physical papers and even small 3D items like Girl Scout patches that you mean to sew onto your daughter’s sash…but not today. Put items into the appropriate file when you need to see the item again, or when you mean to tackle that work. Weekly, review this month’s folder and accomplish what you can. Monthly, move the folder to the back of the drawer like you would flip the pages of a wall calendar. You’ll always have stuff to do, you’ll never have to dig in piles for it, and you can keep a neat tickler hanging file desk organizer safely on your counter in lieu of messy piles.
3. Put stuff away into file cabinets…the way they were designed to work.
Ready for this little gem to organize your office? It doesn’t matter if you like things hidden or out in plain view. Almost everyone owns a file cabinet. Fifty percent of the file cabinets I’ve ever come across were either empty or were stuffed with piles. Neither of those states works very well. All you need to create a functional file system that is hanging file folders and a dark pen. You can get fancier with interior files, a label maker, color on your tabs or folders, and section markers, but they are not necessary.
If you are interested in what goes on at NAPO conferences, you can click over to my recap video from a recent conference. It’s where pros go to learn from each other. There is zucchini, wine, and meditation in this video. See if you can find the common thread.
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Need even more organizing skills in your office? Use the SORT and Succeed system found in this upbeat book: