5 quick ways to organize your office and maximize productivity

Productivity Tips: 5 Ways to Restructure Your Workday

Environment is key for maximum productivity -- take a few minutes to rise above the clutter.

When you're stressed at work, it's easy to let organization slide to the bottom of your to-do list. But office clutter comes with serious consequences: A messy workspace can lead to decreased productivity, diminished creativity, and impaired work performance. Clutter can also make you feel anxious, irritable, and generally out of control -- and therefore less effective overall.

Luckily, a boost in mental clarity and productivity is available to any office worker with approximately 30 minutes to spare. Set a timer, shut out all distractions, and tackle the following tasks as quickly as possible. Make this routine a habit, and you'll improve your work performance for life.

Place similar items near each other.

Group like with like, and you'll never lose an hour searching for the binder clips again. Assign a designated space for each category of office gear, from cords to writing utensils to books on leadership. Label each of these spaces so you never again have to think about where anything should go. While you're at it, eliminate redundant equipment -- do you really need 25 pens or eight power cords? Be quick and ruthless: Scale it back to the essentials, and you'll minimize both clutter and overwhelm.

Straighten desk drawers.

Even when it's out of sight, uncategorized junk can still inhibit clarity of mind. Start by pulling everything out of your desk drawers and grouping similar items together in categories (thumb tacks, loose change, personal items, etc.). Again, move quickly and don't overthink it. Assign each category to a section of the drawer, label each section, and commit to putting things back where they belong instead of randomly dumping items into the drawers.

Tie up loose ends.

Loose wires and cables aren't just visually distracting -- they can also be a safety hazard (and nothing kills productivity faster than rushing off to the emergency room with a broken ankle). For a quick and easy fix, tuck cords into a cable organizer. Or, if you're feeling more ambitious, wrap adhesive Velcro strips around the cords and attach them to the inside of your desk.

Organize paperwork.

You won't have time to completely overhaul a paper file system in 30 minutes or less, but you can set up a more efficient means of sorting papers. Start by labeling three different bins: one for incoming papers, one for paperwork that you've reviewed but still need to address, and one for anything that can be digitized and then shredded.

Digitizing files is an incredibly effective way to cut down on office clutter, so commit to scanning and shredding these documents in 20-minute increments over the next few weeks. (Add this task to your calendar to help ensure it actually gets done.)

Next, grab a stack of multicolored filing folders from the office supply closet. Assign each color to a different category (blue folders could contain client contracts, yellow folders could contain financial info, and so on).

Moving forward, whenever you've processed papers from the "new" or "to be addressed" bins, promptly place them in the correctly colored folder. This will save you precious time whenever you need to locate files in the future.

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5 quick ways to organize your office and maximize productivity

Minimize the stress of your first week in a new job by taking time to organize your personal life.

"Any projects around the house that have been nagging at the back of your mind? Now's the time to get them done," says Ryan Kahn, the founder of The Hired Group and creator of the best-selling How To Get Hired online course.

Miriam Salpeter, job search coach, owner of Keppie Careers, and author of "Social Networking for Career Success" and "100 Conversations for Career Success," says your break between jobs is the perfect time to schedule doctor appointments and deliveries that require you to be home, and to run any errands that may be difficult to get done once you start your new job.

"Take advantage of not having to be reachable during the day, and stop checking your email or looking at Facebook for an afternoon or two," says Sutton Fell. "This gives you a chance to reset your brain."

Instead of staring at a screen for hours on end — which you'll probably have to do as soon as you start your new job — pick up a book you've been dying to read, or go take an exercise class you've been wanting to try.

"Before starting a new job, take the time to ensure that you are maintaining the relationships you had formed at your previous job," Kahn says.

Make sure you have contact information for the people that you worked with in the past, and plan on checking in with them on a regular basis once you're in your new role.

We know we said earlier you should take a break from technology — but it's okay (and advised!) to take an hour to two during your time off to update your LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook profiles with your new company and job title.
You might not have a chance to do afternoon lunches with people for the first few months of your new job, so your break is a great time to do these, says Sutton Fell.

Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert and best-selling author, suggests using this break to spend time with family.

"When you start any new job you should expect to work longer hours — at least the first several months," she says. "Utilize this time to make the most of being at home."

Whether you can get away for a night or a week, take a trip somewhere to recharge, see new sights, and take full advantage of your time off, Sutton Fell says.

In today's competitive job market, the more senior the position, the more you will be scrutinized in those first few months, Kahn says.

"You'll be expected to hit the ground running versus spending time learning the ropes. Get a head start by researching the industry and the company, and learning as much as you can about the position and the team you will be working with," he suggests. 

Give some thought to what you want to do differently from the start in this new job, Williams Yost says.

"Are you going to try to wake up earlier and get to the gym a couple of days a week? Are you going to try to schedule a networking lunch outside of the office once a month?" Use this time to establish a plan. 

During this rare lull between jobs, think about where you are headed. Where do you want to be in five years? In 10 years? How will this job help you get there? Coming in knowing where you're going will help you stay on the right path from day one, Kahn says.

If your work schedule is shifting at all, it's important to organize things like childcare, household responsibilities, and your personal routine, Sutton Fell says.

Salpeter says if you altered your sleep schedule at all during your time off, you should try to get into a "work-oriented sleep routine" a few days before starting your new job.

Don't forget to spend some time on yourself. Take time to relax, get plenty of rest, and indulge in some pampering. 

"Congratulate yourself on a job well done," Williams Yost says. "Treat yourself to a massage, new power outfit, or a nice dinner. You landed a job in a dim market; you should take the time to be proud of yourself."

Worried that it may be difficult to get back into the swing of things if you’re too relaxed during your time off? "Work is like riding a bike; once you start that first day, you'll click right back in," Williams Yost explains. "So don't worry about being too relaxed during your break. Drink it all in. Enjoy every minute of it. Then dive into your new gig with a new outfit, fresh outlook, and happy heart."


Don't forget digital clutter.

Workers can lose up to an hour a day searching for digital files. If your desktop is a mess, you may need more than 30 minutes to get it completely under control. But you can get the process started by mapping out an overarching hierarchy for folders on your computer.

Create folders for large categories (client communications, contracts, etc.) and spend a few minutes dragging-and-dropping files into the relevant folder. Then, whenever you have the time, work on creating clearly labeled sub-folders within each category.

On a related note: Take 30 seconds to set a calendar reminder to back up your digital files at least once a month. This will help protect you against the productivity annihilator that is losing all of your files at once.

Once the timer dings, you're all done -- for today. Office organization requires regular maintenance, so it's important to commit to this routine for the long haul. Set aside time on your calendar to maintain the systems you've put in place -- depending on your schedule, you might want to assign daily 15-minute cleanups, 30 minutes twice weekly, or a one-hour organization session every Friday afternoon. Experiment with a schedule that works for you, and stick to it. Your work life will be better for it.

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