How to organize your work space

Organized work space is important for many reasons. The obvious reason to organize the work space is for the visual appearance. Clutter can be unsightly and is often perceived as a sign of disorganization and inability to manage your workload.

Arranging the important things you need where they can be easily accessed will increase your productivity. An organized work space also contributes to the ability to focus more directly on what is in front of you. Rather than having mulitple distractions, pending projects, unread mail, and other objects vying for your attention, you can become more focused on what you are doing.

Whether you work in a large executive office, a smaller office, a cubicle, from home, or even from your car, it’s important to organize your work space. These steps will help you create an organized space and you will be proud of your office and what you have accomplished.

Don’t be surprised if colleagues, superiors, and customers suddenly notice that you are a much high performing individual than they initially thought you were. An organized work space demonstrates strong management skills and the ability to multi-task while maintaining organization. People equate organizaton with the ability to plan and manage well — this may be just the boost you need in your career.


Step 1

Take an inventory of what is in the work space.

Look around and evaluate the items in your work space. You are likely to have a computer, phone, pencils, paper, files, and books. But you may also find that you have half-empty coffee cups, plastic cups, folders that need to be filed away, and maybe even a few crumbs from yesterday’s lunch. Take an inventory of what’s around you and then determine the most important things you need to have close at hand.

Step 2

Remove everything that is out of place.

The next important step is to remove unnecessary clutter from your desk. Throw away old paper cups, empty coffee cups and put them where they belong, and throw away any trash or duplicate copies of information. Be sure to carefully dispose of confidential documents and use a shredder when necessary. If there are notebooks or books that are not being used for a current project, put them away on the bookshelf. Remove anything that shouldn’t be on the desk or other work surfaces.

Step 3

Store electronically when possible.

Paper files are still a necessity, even in this world of high-tech computers and advancements. But there are likely many paper copies of information that can be maintained electronically. Review your categories of information and see if anything can be kept electronically. If so, by all means use that method. The most important thing to remember about electronic files is to have a back-up system in case the computer fails.

Step 4

Organize things according to categories.

Once the electronic file options have been identified and unnecessary things have been moved and put in their proper places, it’s time to organize what’s left. Put all things in categories. For example, stack all folders to be filed in one stack. Create a stack of unanswered phone messages and paper clip them together. Put all reports or other documents that are used for projects or routine work together. Stack all emails together — you’ll probably find that many of them didn’t even need to be printed to begin with and you can place them in the recycle bin or shredder now. Place all sticky notes on a large sheet of paper to deal with later. Create a stack of journals, periodicals, and other reading materials together. Do this for each category of item on the desk.

Step 5

Create a list of the categories.

Once the categories are all together, it’s time to create a list of them. Using an Excel spreadsheet or Word document is a good place to start. Then you can prioritize and alphabethize the projects as you move forward. The important thing is to know the different categories of materials so you can create a plan to manage them.

Step 6

Assign priorities to the category list.

Now that you have created categories of items, it’s time to assign a priority to them. This should be based on how important it is to handle them. For example, projects to be completed are a number one priority. Phone messages to be returned are also a priority. A stack of professional journals and periodicals can be lower on the priority list. Make a list and decide the order to begin real organizational strategies.

Step 7

Organize the contents of the work space.

You can start really organizing now. The actual contents and categories of items will determine your priorities. But the following list will give you a sample order of how to organize your space.

Create folders for:

  • Phone messages
  • Documents to review and sign/approve
  • Emails
  • Project name (create folders for each project)
  • Reading material
  • Proposals
  • Marketing materials

Use this process to create folders for documents and things that can be easily kept together and referenced quickly. Color-coded folders help with organization too. You can put things that require immediate attention in a red folder, projects in progress in yellow folders, phone messages in blue folders, and so forth.

Notebooks or binders are the perfect option for larger projects, proposals, business plans, and other things that need review or that will be referenced frequently. Just be sure to label the spine and front of the notebook with the content name.

Step 8

File everything possible.

Now is the time to file as many things as possible. Putting files back in their proper place will free up lots of work space. If you have referenced a file related to company policies, return it to its proper place. Do this for all folders. For those files that require frequent access, it’s a good idea to keep them in a convenient desk drawer or cabinet within reach of your main work area. All others that are only referenced periodically or less frequently can be stored in file cabinets in another area or even in a storage closet. An important rule to remember is to handle a file only once when you are through with it. If you keep handling it and moving it from one spot to another in your work space, you’re losing valuable time and decreasing productivity.

Step 9

Set up a desktop file rack.

Remaining files in the work space should be neatly organized. Using a desktop file rack is a good idea. File the folders either alphabetically or by color based on priority level, and then alphabetically within color grouping.

Step 10

Make work space inviting.

Once you’ve regained control of the work space by filing unused folders, creating file folders for each project or category, put notebooks on the bookshelf, and created an organized system, it’s time for fun. Make the space inviting. Add a nice green plant in the work space where it will not be in the way — perhaps the corner of a desk or a small window ledge. Add photos of family or friends on the wall and accessorize with small, but useful things such as business card holders, pen holders, customized note pads, in and out boxes, or other things. Hang inspirational artwork or other photos. This will make your work space look inviting and appealing, and it will give you a sense of ownership. Just remember not to start cluttering with accessories — «less is more».

Things Needed
• File folders in assorted sizes and colors
• File tabs
• 3-ring binders
• 3 hole punch
• Label maker
• Desk trays, pencil holders, and other organizing office tools

Tips & Warnings
• Do not assume «once organized, always organized» — manage your system
• File things logically so they can be easily accessed
• Keep frequently referenced files or documents within arms length of primary work space
• Set aside time each week to reorganize where needed
• Use lamplight, pictures, or photos to make the work space enjoyable
• Periodically review old files and purge obsolete or unneeded documents
• Use an electronic calendar with tasks lists and electronic reminders if possible


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