06 June 2011

Clutter damages time management

Your desk is beginning to disappear under drifts of paper, and there’s the nagging suspicion that you’re a little off your game.


So, you have your own office, a laptop designed by Nasa, a cellphone endorsed by Keanu Reeves and a formidable job description. But your desk is beginning to disappear under drifts of paper, and there’s the nagging suspicion that you’re a little off your game.

Many people feel as you do – about themselves, that is. They do what’s required of them, but have the irksome idea that they’re just not as polished as they should be. One major that sets their teeth on edge is time management – and nothing damages time management like clutter.

Whether or not you subscribe to the tenets of feng shui, it’s true that a messy work space is distracting and counterproductive. So you can have a major chuck-out of detritus every six weeks, or you can devise a system that’ll help you become more productive and stay that way. Here are a few ways to do that.

Harness technology
Only a fraction of the people who use PCs, laptops, cellphones and PDAs know more than the basics of how to use them. Those that do are often hampered by their own lack of skills.

For example, you have a hotshot machine with enough processing power to command a space shuttle, but you type on it with three fingers. Download a touch-typing tutorial and teach yourself to use all your other digits.

With that done, check whether your auto-correct function is set up properly. These two simple steps could increase productivity.

That means you’ll get through your work quickly and the incoming stuff won’t have time to pile up.

Dr Brian Jude’s advice in More Hours In Your Day is radical about it. He recommends handling any set of paper just once. Dr Jude writes that most people pick up a piece of paper and scan it briefly at least half-a-dozen times. Try this experiment, he says: each time you look at a piece of paper, cut five centimetres off the bottom with a guillotine.

In his book Organise Yourself!, Ronnie Eisenberg suggests rather more conservatively that you should file pieces of paper under “to do”, “to read” and so on. Colour coding ought to help too.

Both the ideas suggested above can work well if they’re adapted to the electronic format, especially with the simple drag-and-drop facility of moving files around. Make back-ups, but don’t feel pressured to make printouts unless your company has a policy on it.

Having trouble letting go of paper? Check out the printer in your office. Chances are there are stacks of pages people have printed out but forgotten to collect. So why print in the first place?

Another of Eisenberg’s suggestions, which adapts well to an electronic format is the workbook. Rather than having scraps of paper lying about your desk, commit everything to a single, large-format book. It can be everything from telephone messages to a wedding dress design you like.

Dr Jude recommends a 30-day pending file. Any piece of paper that needs to be held over gets allocated an exact slot – you needn’t glance at it again until the day it’s needed. After that it goes into the wastepaper basket.

Eisenberg suggests using an oven timer to prevent wasting time. Not a bad idea, as long as your colleagues in an open-plan office don’t mind the noise. Perhaps it’s easier to set the alarm on your Microsoft Organiser, or whatever programme you’re using.

Arrive early, leave on time
Bustling in late is sometimes avoidable, but you’ll derive great benefit from having a few minutes to yourself to gather your thoughts. If the phone is already ringing when you arrive, take it off the hook or sit in a coffee shop nearby for a short time.

Having put in a good day’s work, get out of the office and get a life. Consistently working overtime can leave you feeling isolated from your life and your family. On the way out, tidy your desk. Wash your coffee mug and sharpen your pencils. You’ll be sending yourself positive messages when you arrive tomorrow.

Find calmness
No matter how busy your day is, get 15 minutes of sunshine or at least fresh air. Just focusing on something further away than your monitor will help. Going to gym or going for a run is optimal, but running up several flights of stairs is a good consolation prize.

Keep plenty of fresh fruit in your desk and graze throughout the day, resulting in more consistent blood-sugar levels, which are linked directly to mood. That way you’ll be able to cope better with any clutter.

If you have your own office, try a set of CDs called Solitudes, which mix soothing music and the sounds of the sea, whales, birds and wild animals. Even if your usual taste is Radiohead, something more serene might enhance your productivity. (William Smook)


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