Getting Organized Requires Getting Rid of Excess Clutter

Article originally published in

By Nancy Keny

The Wall Street Journal reported that executives spend, on average, an estimated 6 weeks per year sorting through, rearranging, being consumed by, and engulfed in clutter.

Keep in mind that clutter has many facades. There is not only paper clutter, but mental, relationship, and others’ clutter as well that robs you of valuable and productive time.

What do you give up when you’re not as organized as you could be? Kid’s soccer game, school activities and family time because you have to work late to catch up? What about time for yourself to enjoy a sport, hobby or time for exercise?

Vow today to be more organized and function in a more efficient manner in order to do the things that really matter. Gain more control over how you spend your time by designing and implementing strategies to deal with the various time consuming “clutter.”

Paper clutter
A “Paper de-cluttering” system is a great place to start. Keep it simple to ensure ongoing success. Only 4 things are needed:

  • Daily planner—this is where the action in your life takes place and where your priorities are plugged in and scheduled
  • “Master to do list”
  • File cabinet and files—material or electronic
  • Trash can

Target the mountainous paper clutter on your desk. Clear everything from your desk top and place in a box next to you. Handle each piece of paper only once and choose one of the following options:

  • If there is no action to be taken, file it or create a new file
  • If there is action to be taken, write it down on your “master to do list” and then file it immediately.
  • Throw it out.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate

Once your “master list” is created, assign a priority number to the items on your list. Schedule your top numbered priorities into your daily planner. This will ensure that the things that must get accomplished that day will be. You no longer need piles of clutter to remind you of what needs to get done.

Another form of clutter is Subscription Clutter. Limit Magazine, newspaper, catalogue and other periodical subscriptions. It can be stressful and time-consuming looking at piles of “things to read.” The same strategy applies to online subscriptions.

De-cluttering actions:
If reading material is more than a few weeks or even days old, run, don’t walk, to the nearest trash or recycling receptacle.

If you must keep outdated material, quickly skim each one and save articles of interest. Then file the articles and toss out/delete the rest.

Make it a habit of skimming through and tossing magazines and other publications—hard copy and electronic—on a daily basis.

Remember, the library is the place for archival material, not your office. Cancel existing subscriptions you don’t need or read.

Once your documents are organized, keep on top of it on an ongoing basis by handling them once, the first time they show up on your desk or e-mail. Periodically go through files and toss/delete outdated material.

Mental Clutter
Do you find yourself constantly thinking about problems, things you have to do? Keep a notebook and daily planner with you to write out your thoughts, ideas, things to do and appointments. This will help remind you of what things need your attention and avoid scheduling conflicts and missed appointments.

Also, don’t clutter your mind with things you can’t control. Focus on those which you can and train your mind to become proactive versus reactive.

Others’ Clutter
Do you drop what you are doing when a coworker or friend needs to talk? Do you find it hard to say NO to requests of your time? Try saying “let me get back to you”. It gives you time to practice saying “no”. Start with saying “no” to small requests and go from there.

Relationship clutter
How do you make a clean sweep of relationships that are cluttering your life? Wean yourself from needy co-workers, friends, and family members by not being on constant call. Don’t allow other people’s lack of proper planning and scheduling to become your emergency. Once again, practice saying “no,” guilt free.

If you find the struggle to deal with clutter overwhelming, the ongoing support and direction of a professional or personal coach can make this resolution of becoming more organized a reality. A coach will assist you in devising individual action plans and strategies to deal with the inundation of daily “clutter.”

What one action can you take today to become more organized?