I tend to pile, not file. • It's all atop my desk — everything I think I need to do my job. • The e-mails I've printed out, the half-filled notebooks, the sticky notes, the business cards, the torn-out newspaper articles. • Yet, my file drawers are empty.
What's on my desk are cues to my brain, says Jay Brand, a former psychology professor who now works for Haworth, an office furniture and design firm in Holland, Mich.
"For most of us . . . if task-relevant papers get filed, they also get forgotten, or at least ignored," Brand says.
That's reassuring. Sounds like I'm on top of things when all this stuff is on top of my desk. I'm fostering creativity, not laying the foundation for a starring role on a cable show about hoarding.
My stuff, stored out of sight, would lose its "scratch pad function," says Brand, to jolt story ideas and award-winning sentences from my brain circuitry.
Yet, when I periodically cull through the piles, it certainly does neaten up the work space and clear out the clutter of expectations. And that's when I discover a stash that could have been helpful on an earlier story or project — had I remembered where it was.
We know we're often judged by appearances. And a work space easily can be viewed as a reflection of the ability of its occupant.
Bosses think there's a link between workers' organizational skills and job performance. Some 51 percent of 2,600 bosses surveyed by label systems maker DYMO said they considered an employee's work space organization when conducting annual reviews.
The 2005 study categorized about 50 percent of American employees as having organized desktops with a few small, neatly stacked files. Some 31 percent worked among organized clutter; 13 percent were considered very messy or creative; and 7 percent were super-neat.
Clutter for its own sake probably interferes with productivity more often than it enhances it, says Brand, but you can't judge an employee by his or her work space, either.
About one out of three employees has a messy desk, according to a 2006 survey sponsored by Office Depot. A similar number reported having lost track of an important document because of desktop disorganization. Of those with messy desks, 53 percent say they're fine with the mess and can find what they need. Some 67 percent said they just gave up on getting organized.
It wasn't just paperwork that caused work space chaos. Respondents also blamed food, old newspapers, coffee cups and spare shoes as culprits contributing to clutter.
Donna Lindley, a certified professional organizer from Rochester Hills, Mich., who runs www.organizedofficesolutions.com, sees a surge of business this time of year, as the spring cleaning ethos infuses offices as well as homes. It's one of her busiest times.
Be ruthless, Lindley advises. Grab a box and sweep the stuff atop your desk into it. "Pick up the first item and make one of the following three choices: File, act or toss."
One of her easiest tips, she says, is to set up just a few "action" files on a desk. Those files can be labeled for today, tomorrow, next week, next month.
Clutter is just postponed decisionmaking, says Lindley, so decide today to transform unsightly piles into sleek files.