Montreal, Quebec

17 steps to reorganize your office this summer

 By STEPHANIE WHITTAKER, Freelance July 25, 2009

  Would you like to use the dog days of summer to give your career a boost?

Consider taking advantage of the somewhat slower pace of the end of July and August to organize your office, which, experts say, will do more than just give you a tidy workspace.

Organizing your office can be a strategic move that can help bolster your career, says Ann Searles, a productivity consultant with IBT Caribbean-Canada, who helps executives organize their work lives.

"You need to get physically organized and that includes dealing with email and cyber data as well as paper. If you're organized in such a way that others can see at a glance what's important to you, you can move where you want."

Here's what Searles and several other experts recommend you do when you tackle the reorganization of your office this summer:

1. Step one is to make a written list of your priorities and number them from 1 to 10 in order of their importance. Having a list will enable you to decide what papers and electronic files to keep and which ones to pitch.

"Anything that's not on that list gets thrown away," Searles said. "If your priority is sales and you want to drive your career in that direction, why would you keep the minutes of meetings of the manufacturing division, for instance? Anything in your office pertaining to manufacturing should go. You keep the data that will drive you into the sales field. This is a strategic move."

2. Be consistent about how you name your files.

"People keep data on hand-held devices, memory sticks, email, paper files and so on," Searles said. "Arrange it so that the information is labelled the same way regardless of whether it's on paper or in electronic format."

3. Dispose of anything you're keeping for sentimental reasons.

"Some people keep everything from their old jobs," Searles said. "They tell me they want to keep old documents in case people in their organizations want to ask them anything. They become the company librarian instead of a potential leader and wonder why they keep getting interrupted all the time. You should cast off whatever is irrelevant."

4. Create files.

"Believe it or not, some people have shoe boxes filled with papers," said Gayle Fransham, a professional organizer with Orderesque. "They're the people who can never find anything. They need to start a filing system that enables them to retrieve the documents they want. I've heard people say that they can't do this on their own. I say 'create your own system.' "

5. Invest in a paper shredder and shred personal papers that are no longer needed.

"Once you start this process and realize what you're shredding," Fransham said, "you'll say: 'I kept this paper?' "

6. Dispose of anything in your office that no longer has a purpose.

"That includes books that are no longer relevant," said Fransham. "A lot of people keep broken things, too. You should get rid of anything that's broken."

7. Make your space personal.

"People think of their office as a desk, chair and lamp. But you can make it your own by, say, posting cork on a wall and covering it with information," Fransham said.

8. Organize your desk so that others can see, at a glance, what's important to you.

"Make files that are easily accessible and in an order of importance," said Searles.

9. Get into the habit of purging documents regularly.

"It's like flossing your teeth every day," Searles said.

10. Understand that emptiness is good.

"If you have an empty desktop, empty shelves or other empty space in your office, that's fine," Searles said. "Emptiness gives you the illusion of potential, of control and of creative leeway. Use emptiness to encourage space for thinking.

"Whenever I work with leaders, they always ask me for three things: time to think, time to lead and time to connect with their people. They say their day-to-day work claws away at that. Use the new emptiness in your office to encourage space for thinking, for leading and for connecting."

11. Evaluate the ergonomics of your workspace.

"Ergonomics is synonymous with productivity," said Bernie Shalinsky, an ergonomics consultant with Ergon Consulting. "If your back, wrists and arms hurt, you can't work at your capacity. Having an ergonomic environment prevents cumulative trauma disorders."

Ensure that your computer's keyboard is below desk level, just above your legs and the centre of its monitor is at chin level."

Objects should be easily accessible and at arm's length, he said.

12. Improve the flow of energy through your office by applying the ancient Chinese principles of feng shui.

"Eliminate all clutter," said Tracey MacKenzie, a feng shui consultant and designer with Feng Shui For All. "Things should be easy to find."

13. Situate your desk in the feng shui "command" position.

"The command position is one in which the desk faces the office door, allows you to see out the window and has a wall behind your back," MacKenzie explained.

14. Paint your office a pleasing colour.

"Depending on what you do for a living, you may need a soothing colour or a vivid one that energizes you," MacKenzie said. "And you should put things on the walls that are of value to you: awards you've won or pictures of people you admire or wish to emulate, anything that's inspiring."

15. Don't use a lack of time as an excuse for not organizing your office.

"Even if you don't have time to do it, shift your mental talk to: 'I have chosen not to make the time for this,' " Searles said. "It's called opportunity cost. If I choose to go sailing, I have chosen not to organize my office."

16. Start a detailed calendar, whether it be on paper on in your computer.

"Put all deadlines and milestones in your calendar," Searles suggests. "Make sure that the days leading up to a work deadline are open. You don't plan anything for those days. That way, you're organizing yourself around your priorities."

17. And finally, reduce the number of icons on your computer's desktop.

"If you have a whole lot of icons when you're in your 20s, it may be seen as cute. If you still have them in your 30s, your employer may wonder if you can see the forest for all those trees," Searles said. "And if you still have them when you're in your 40s, you're just going to look really disorganized and all that icon clutter will make you look non-promotable."