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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Messy Desk Syndrome: How to be organized and productive

Though we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, the cover does a lot in the selling. A desk can provide a glimpse into the inner workings of the mind, and provide the (innocent?) observer with many clues to the character and habits of the co-worker.

Like those impressions that we never get to make a second time, these little things will speak volumes to those around you, so perhaps it's time to project a better image. A messy desk, however, is a tough nut to crack.

Psychologists have equated a messy desk to a messy mind. Our inner and outer worlds reflect each other. If you have too much stuff, or your stuff is disorganized, it's highly likely that your mental and emotional states will be cluttered and disorganized.

In this day and age we have inboxes, computers, telephones, cell phones, calendars, and personal stuff on the desk at the same time. This only leads to clutter and chaos, leaving us anxious and stressed. Clearing your desk therefore is like clearing your mind. If you are looking at just one thing on your desk, work on it until it is finished and then go on to the next thing. You will be far more productive and more accurate, because your attention is focused on just one task at a time. As Benjamin Franklin said, "For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned. A clear desk helps relieve your mind of mental noise.

Some suggested techniques for keeping your desk clear are:

Store the information and materials you use most often within easy reach - perhaps in your right-hand desk drawer (if you are right-handed).

Put things away as soon as you stop working on them. If you are working on something and get interrupted, try posting a sticky note on the page, jot your thoughts down on it, then file it. That will help you resume your train of thoughts more quickly when you get back to it again.

Discard drafts of anything you write. You'll never look at them again anyway, so why keep them around? Some people discard all but one digital draft of anything they write.

Don't keep business cards. Enter the info you need into a contact manager and toss the card.

Keep a to-do list close at hand, preferably sorted by category (Do, Call, Write, etc.). Update it at the end of each day.  You would have accomplished probably 10 or 15 things that you weren't even aware of and that in itself makes you feel great by the end of the day.

Set up a filing system. Many people feel more secure when all their active projects are in sight, but that doesn't mean everything has to be strewn across your desk. You can label the files as HOT files (current projects and reports), WORK files (information that is used frequently) and ARCHIVES (files that are not being used but are important).

Plan your day. A short daily session to review each day's accomplishments, and a weekly plan to track your goals a week or two ahead of time, can be of great help. Planning helps prevent many of the fires that cause our days to spin out of control.

The TRAF System:

To organize your paperwork, you can make only four decisions: Toss it, Refer it, Act on it personally, or File it.

Toss: Look at the papers carefully once. If you don't need them or have a back up, then toss them. If you're not certain whether you should, ask yourself if you can find a duplicate in the unlikely event you'll need them.

Refer: This is about sharing information with someone else. To make it easier, make a file folder for each of the people you frequently interact with - your boss, your assistant and a few co-workers, and drop the referral documents in each person's folder as you come across them. When you have time, pull out one of the folders and cover several things at once with the person.

Act: This is the category for all the notes, memos and mail you receive that you need to personally respond to in some way. Keep all your action papers in one place and schedule some time each day to deal with them.

File: File-as-you-go is the best way to prevent a build-up of articles and material. Remember to keep the headings clear and easy to remember. It's the small decisions you make that often have the most effect on your time management, efficiency and productivity. In fact, if you spend 15 minutes a day TRAFing the current day's incoming mail, memos and faxes, you'll soon gain mastery over the clutter.

From the desk of your health manager Dr. Priya Pothan (Psychologist)

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