For over two decades I have traveled across the country because organizations have hired me to help their employees get organized. I have trained well over 100,000 people in a seminar called “I’m Spread So Thin You Can See Through Me”.
As I ask participants to create a list of objectives they would like to cover, invariably, there is one that continually shows up…desk management. Now, they might not call it that, but it shows up in a number of other ways like:
“My desk is a disaster area.”
“I have piles all over my office.”
“We are supposed to be going paperless, but I can’t tell.”
“I have no idea if my desk is wood or metal, because I can’t see it!”
“Colleagues put stuff in my chair because the top of my desk is too scary.”
You get the idea.
After inventorying the tops of hundreds of desks, I discovered that most of the stuff piled on our desks is up there for two reasons:
One, it’s up there to remind you to do something.
Two, you don’t know where else to put it in the meantime.
I call all this paper “homeless paper”…it just lives in the environment in your office and occasionally gets displaced to another area of your office to survive.
Here is a great, simple idea to help you gain control of the top of your desk:
- Build a “Homeless Shelter”. Some people call it a miscellaneous A-Z file. There will be 26 folders or files labeled A, B, C, etc.
- Then make a decision on every piece of paper following what I call the 4 D’s of Paper Management (Drop It, Do It, Delegate It, Date It)
Here’s how it works. Grab a piece of paper and run it through the following decision-making grid, making sure you go in order:
Option 1: Drop It – Where might be an appropriate place to “drop” some of the paper on your desk? Trash can?, recycling bin?, a permanent file? Wait, it doesn’t have a home…you just built a homeless shelter for exactly this kind of document. What is the piece of paper called? File it alphabetically in you’re a-z files by that name. Now if the piece of paper requires action (not just Drop It somewhere, go to option 2).
Option 2: Do It – If the piece of paper can be handled in 3 minutes or less…do it… and get it off your desk. If it will take longer than 3 minutes go to option 3.
Option 3: Delegate It – If you can delegate whatever that piece of paper represents…delegate it. (Maybe you are the delegatee and not the delegator so this is not an option for you—then you move to option 4).
Option 4: Date It – If you cannot Drop It, Do It, or Delegate It, the piece of paper in your hand represents something that you need to do. So you Date It. Decide when you are going to do it and put on your calendar or to-do list. But here is the secret when you list this activity on your calendar or to-do list, also record where you filed the piece of paper so when you are reminded to do the task you will also be directed to where the information is filed.