How to Stay Organized at Work, Whether You’re in an Office or on Your Couch
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a corner office, a cubicle or a stack of egg crates masquerading as a desk in your den: When it comes to feeling motivated (and actually getting stuff done), organization is key. It can even benefit you beyond a productivity boost. A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that people who described their homes as “cluttered” tended to be more stressed, worn down and depressed than individuals with homes they deemed “restorative.” It’s not a stretch to believe the same could be said about your workspace, which is why we’ve scoured the latest research and talked with the pros to figure out how to stay organized at work, so you can lead a calmer, happier life.
1. KonMari, One Corner at a Time
Think about how many minutes a day you lose to sifting through stacks of papers, trying to find the thing you need. You know you need to declutter, but where will you find the time to do it? It’s not like your boss will give you a day off to get your life together. And powering through it on a Saturday sounds like hell, honestly. Organizing guru and Joy at Work author Marie Kondo has a solution: Tidy in small doses, one category at a time. For example, Monday is just your filing cabinet, and only your filing cabinet. Then, Tuesday is all about organizing the loose papers on your desk. These one-hour-or-less projects will keep you moving—and give you a grasp of where everything is (and where it needs to be).
2. Audit What You Keep on Your Desk
Kondo recommends keeping your workspace as clear as possible, so there isn’t as much to distract you. (If that sounds totally impossible, some experts suggest keeping a space the size of a sheet of paper clear at all times, so you can easily review, fill out and sign documents.) “Right now, on my desk, it’s very simple,” Kondo told us. “I have, of course, a light, a charger and my tea that I’m drinking, and a relaxation item.” More on that last item next…
3. Grant Yourself a Moment of Zen
What does Kondo mean by a “relaxation item?” It’s something that soothes you during a stressful day. For the Netflix star, it’s a clear crystal; for her husband, it’s a Zen egg he can pick up and roll in his hands when things feel out of hand. Having an item to remind you to take a deep breath when your schedule of back-to-back meetings get stressful is key.
4. Back Away from the Sticky Notes
A Post-It note on your monitor can help you keep a deadline top of mind, but all too often, that leads to another reminder, and another…until your screen is framed in notes and you stop even noticing they’re there. “They’ve lost their usefulness at that point,” professional organizer Amy Trager told CNN. She recommends sticking to just a couple Post-Its—and only for short-term reminders.
5. Clarify the Way You Communicate
A 2019 survey of 17,000 people found that most of us spend half an hour a day simply switching between apps. That’s more than 130 hours of lost time each year, but the really eye-opening part is when you factor in the time you lose trying to remember if the details on that project you’re working on were sent via Slack, email, text, GChat or, uh, a carefully choreographed TikTok dance. Having distinct purposes for each method of communication you use—Slack for quick yes/no answers and email for projects that require more back-and-forth—can streamline your workday. That, and ending your meetings with a clear call to action of next steps that are jotted down and shared with everyone, either via email or a running “minutes” Google doc.
6. Set Up a “Pending Box”
“A pending box is sort of like a to-do box,” Kondo says. “Any documents that require attention that you haven’t gotten around to yet, I like to keep them in one place.” That could be a tray or a closed box—the important thing is that you have a designated spot for those odds and ends.
7. Compartmentalize Your Projects
You’re in the zone on a spreadsheet when—ping!—a Slack comes through. Or an email. Or someone drops by your desk with a quick question. Our fractured attention spans are a huge reason why we don’t feel as organized as we’d like to be, which is why Kondo suggests time-checking yourself: “I recommend this to readers in the book, but I, myself, also wrote down all the tasks that I do during the day when I’m working and how much time I’m dedicating to each,” Kondo says. “For instance, [when I’m] sorting through emails now, I like to dedicate a time to it so I can do it all in one go.” Constantly shifting between projects can cause little details to fall through the cracks—and make assignments take much longer than they should.
8. Find the Right Kind of Planner for You
If the Notes app on your phone or a classic spiral notebook just isn’t cutting it for you, maybe you need to upgrade how you attack your to-do list. If you need certain tasks to stay front of mind, try a command center that you can hang on the wall next to your computer. If you lack the space or want something more portable, consider Silk + Sonder’s monthly planner subscription. It’s small enough to fit in your purse, but it’s thorough enough that you can use it to track your daily agenda, weekly and monthly goals, your mood and even your daily water consumption. Still not sold? Here are 10 additional planner options that will suit a variety of needs.
9. Don’t Overdo It
It’s so tempting to create folders within folders within folders (in email, on desktops and IRL) so that everything has its place. But if you get too granular, you risk creating a complicated filing project that (1) you avoid using and (2) winds up contributing to your disorganization, because it isn’t sustainable. Start with broad categories for your long-term projects, and if you find that you’ve got five or more documents that don’t fit into your current organization system and aren’t timely enough to go into your “pending box,” then consider creating a new folder for them. And, before you file it at all, critically ask yourself: Do I really need to hold onto this? Those receipts from the 2011 company picnic may be best sorted right into the recycling bin.
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