12 steps to a more organized workspace

Whether you work from an office or remotely, it’s not too late to unbury yourself from the vast piles of stuff around you. Here’s how.


Imagine being able to find what you need when you need it. Imagine having an office you are proud to show off. Imagine having plenty of clear space where you can spread out and work, think, and create.

An organized office provides a backbone to any thriving business. Why then is it so hard to keep order?

All too often, people with the best of intentions sort and toss for hours, only for the piles to return with a vengeance. The tips here allow for some wiggle room, letting you create a functional workspace that is uniquely yours.

Here are twelve fresh ideas that you can start implementing today:

1. Know your goals (aside from having an organized office)

I have all of my new clients make a list of 10 things they’ll do once they’re organized. People never get organized just for the sake of having pretty folders. They organize so that they can spend more time with their family, delegate more, workout again, and more. It is an eye-opening exercise that you should do before touching a single sheet of paper.

2. Group like with like

Let this be your mantra. If I had to explain how to organize an office in just four words, this would be it. Group anything from statements and receipts to writing utensils and paperclips. It’s awfully hard to create files when you’re not looking at complete categories. This should be a very straightforward step. Don’t get caught up in where these things will go. That will come to you once you see everything in one snapshot.

3. Purge anything that is not useful or beautiful

How do you know what to toss and what to keep? It really is this simple. Anything else in your office will just be in the way. This also applies to office supplies. Many people overbuy or recycle tattered folders one too many times. The more beautiful the space, the more you (and others) will respect it.

4. Be held accountable

Share your immediate goals with a friend, not a family member. Have him or her check in on you at the end of the day or week. Personally, this is how I move mountains and get things done.

5. Don’t get too hung up on going digital

I constantly hear “I just want to scan it all.” This usually comes from a place of utter frustration. Going digital only works when dealing with essential, orderly papers, not piles and bags of crumpled papers. Focus first on weeding, then you’ll be in a better place to decide if going digital is necessary right now.

6. Start with the low-hanging fruit

If purging is hard for you, go easy in the beginning. Get your sea legs by starting with what is easiest. This may mean starting with what’s oldest, such as old catalogs; starting with what’s irrelevant, such as faded grocery receipts; or starting with what’s useless, such as dried-up pens.

7. Declare your office a no ________ zone

Decide to ban certain items from your office. Write the list down and post it on the door. Here are some ideas to get you started: laundry, dead plants, kids’ toys, expired coupons, ugly office supplies, broken things, dead electronics, etc.

8. Don’t force yourself to use a filing cabinet

You may be challenged with office organizing simply because you are out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Don’t feel bad if your files in the cabinet haven’t seen the light of day in years. Keep all essentials in plain view and reserve the cabinet for archives. Think of your cabinet as a dead end, reserved only for things you’re keeping “just in case.”

9. Label like crazy

It’s nearly impossible to over-label. Labels create nice, neat lines between categories. Without labels, many categories quickly slide into the dangerous “miscellaneous” zone.

10. Create designated places for everything

This rule applies to all things big and small. For example, tax archives should all be together in one, and only one spot. The same applies for bills to pay, stamps, mailing supplies, chargers, Sharpies, and more. Keep close to your desk chair only things you reach for at least once weekly. Committing to No. 9 helps.

11. Keep it visible

If your office is out of order, it’s probably in part due to you being out-of-sight-out-of-mind. For many, anything filed is as good as gone. Files in drawers are best for archives. Anything active should be organized on the desktop or on the wall. Step racks and wall file pockets are good solutions.

12. Be decisive

Every paper that’s out represents an unmade decision. Your decision doesn’t have to be on the paper’s final resting place, but it does have to result in it either getting trashed, acted on, or filed properly in a place where you’re 100 percent sure you’ll be able to find it again.

Any one of these rules has the power to transform an office. It’s unlikely that you’ll have the need or focus to perfect each of these steps. Decide which one (or more) resonates with you and let that tip be your guide. I do encourage you to start with tip No. 1, then feel your way to the next action step. There is no underestimating the value in of an inspiring, organized workspace. Do you struggle with staying organized? What are your challenges with keeping a tidy workspace?

Kacy Paide, of The Inspired Office, is based in Silver Spring, Md., and has been a professional organizer since 2001. Learn more and receive a free list of 100 Ways To Organize Your Office at www.theinspiredoffice.com.

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