Whether working in the kitchen, the garage, or any other space, the fundamental principles of organizing remain the same. There are many names for these steps, some with catchy acronyms, but basically, they boil down to: sort, organize, systemize, contain, and maintain. This month, we’re applying these principles to the office. Create a calmer workspace and boost your productivity with these five steps for office organization!

1. Sort

First, begin by preparing the tools you need and going through the items in the space. Grab boxes, cleaning supplies, and other tools that will come in handy during this process. Next, begin sorting. To keep yourself from wearing out your back, set up a large table to work at if you have one. Sort items in batches, either by taking things one category at a time (books, files, office supplies, etc.), or by area, starting at the door and moving clockwise around the room.

As you review items, use categories like “donate,” “take home,” and “trash.” In addition, label your categories with sticky notes to allow for clear distinctions and to avoid mix-ups.

Continue this review for every inch of your office. To wrap up, put the items in their corresponding place: the recycling bin, in your car to be donated, or to your coworkers (if applicable). If your office looks like a huge mess, don’t worry! As we like to say, it always gets worse before it gets better.

2. Organize

2a. Clean

Now that you have sorted your space, it’s time to clean. This step not only refers to cleaning; it also refers to inspecting and repairing. Here are some suggestions for what to focus on as you clean:

  • Verify electrical outlets and cables are in working order
  • Dust your computer where the fan is located to prolong computer life
  • Dust and clean surfaces and drawers thoroughly
  • Vacuum or clean the keyboard to remove dust and debris
  • Dust the walls and ceiling around windows and corners
  • Check and replace light bulbs that are burned out
  • Clean your printer’s print heads or schedule a routine inspection

2b. Organize

At this point, following sorting and cleaning, it’s time to organize. Stay intentional about what goes back into your newly cleared space.

Ask questions about the items to help make decisions. For instance,

  • What is this item for? How often do I perform that duty?
  • Why is it here? Is this the best place for it?
  • When was the last time it was used?
  • If broken or requires maintenance, is it worth having it repaired?
  • How many do I really need?

Embrace the Organized Mind with Neat + Tidy

As you return items to your office, question whether they are in an optimal location. For example, only store paper files nearby that you access regularly. Place reference files in a drawer, and place action files in a desktop filing container. Papers requiring action should always remain separate from reference papers. These same principles apply to digital files.

At the same time, question the use of items including cork boards, pencil holders, and tchotchkes. Entering a clean and tidy desk area is inspirational and supports productivity, so ask whether each keepsake is contributing value.

Dealing with Office “Back-and-Forth”

If you constantly have items going to and from home (or going to other rooms in your house), make a “home” area near the door as a reminder not to leave them at the office (or in your home office). While you could create a small cubby or shelf area, a simple banker’s box will work, too.

Overall, only return items to the office that aid productivity, support focused work time, and reflect well on who you are as a professional.

3. Systematize

In the “systematize” step, the workspace goes from simply organized to efficiently streamlined. Before beginning this step, we recommend working in your new space for a few days. As a result, you may find that things can be moved or adjusted to increase efficiency even more. For instance, you may increase your productivity by using “zones.”

There are five zones. Consider your desktop as Zone 1: the hot real estate where only things used multiple times per day or our most cherished photos and decor should live. After that, Zone 2 is for items you use at least once per day; keep them within arm’s reach. For example, your stapler, printer, or the items that live in your desk drawers. Be discerning. Make sure items earn their spot here. After that, items in Zone 3 are a little farther out, requiring you to get up from your desk to reach them. These are things you don’t need to access more than a few times per week. Then we have Zone 4—active storage—these are things you need to have access to for reference, but that you don’t use more than once per week. Finally, Zone 5 is offsite storage for things including reference files, tax records, and other infrequently used items.

Undoubtedly, systematizing is a continuous process. Since you spend hours a day in your office, actively testing your organizing systems, you will quickly find what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes you may feel that a system you have set in place is really fantastic, and then discover that it is overly complicated. Color-coding everything according to very specific file or paper colors, for example. While this works as a great visual cue indicating where things belong, overdoing it can lead to giving up, since you may run out of a certain color or simply become busy and forget to follow the system. The simplest method is often the easiest to follow.

4. Contain

Oftentimes, our clients want to run out and purchase storage bins and other organizing products before we even arrive. Please don’t! Until you have systems in place and know what you’ll need, this simply adds to the clutter. Before going to the store or online, we recommend “shopping” at your office or home first and reusing what you already have. Assemble a temporary system and test it for about three weeks. Then, when you are satisfied with your systems, you can purchase aesthetically pleasing organizing products within your budget.

5. Maintain

In organizing, the true nature of success is not based on reaching perfection, but on a culture of continuous improvement. This brings us to the fifth and most crucial step in the organizing process: maintain.

This step may be the most challenging. It’s not terribly complicated to clean out an office and organize it, but keeping it that way can be. Systematizing the space properly really helps this process, but it won’t take you all the way to the finish line. You are never done with organizing: you are simply sustaining the work. (Organizing is a journey, not a destination.)

Office Organization Teamwork

If you have organized the entire office, including common areas, then education is a big part of sustaining the work. Make sure that all team members are aware of expectations for where things belong, when they should be replaced, and when new supplies should be ordered. This also applies to digital filing systems and file naming conventions.

Morning huddles, whether virtual or in person, are a great way to review work expectations and are also a perfect time to address organizing needs. Encouraging suggestions from team members supports a culture of continuous improvement and increases buy-in and accountability from everyone.

Add a Visual Reminder

Checklists are another good way to maintain the work performed during the organizing process. Some people like to put their checklist on a whiteboard, print it out on paper, and laminate or hang it on the wall as a reminder of what to review before leaving the office each day. Other folks prefer digital checklists or task management programs. Try this for individual rooms such as a shared kitchen or supply closet.

Here are some of our favorite sample checklist items, fashioned for an individual office:

  • Tomorrow’s to-dos
  • E-file computer files into corresponding folders
  • File paper clutter on desk into action or reference files
  • Remove any dishware
  • Tidy desk drawer
  • Review “to read” file and recycle/delete outdated journals and other reading material
  • Wipe down desktop

Everyday Organization

Put an alarm into your phone or calendar reminding you to begin packing up ten minutes before you are due to leave. This way, you can prepare the space for the next day. If you have done organizing with a coworker, ask them to be an accountability buddy to stick with it.

Lastly, a big part of the maintain step is to keep organizing as a priority. Take a photo to remind yourself of what your organized office looks like. Revel in how good it feels to find what you need immediately and not waste precious time searching for lost items. Moreover, make the effort to keep up your hard work and enjoy your organized office space.

We are happy to provide assistance if you need motivation or support. Check out our services page for more information on how we help people achieve their organizing goals and increase their productivity.