Creating Calm out of Clutter

Did you ever get the feeling that everyone else around you has it all togther?
Have you ever felt like there just isn’t enough time in the day to get the things done that you’d like?
Do you thing there has to be “A Better Way”?

Well, if you find it let me know…until then, I’d like to offer a few tips on organization from a highly messy person. Yes, I know that it’s a bit of an oxymoron, but all messy people out there (you know who you are) can sympathize with my plight. There are mounds of paper all over, pens and pencils scattered to the wind, and books place haphazardly on shelves and desktops until there’s almost no surface space to be found. I’ve been there (still am most of the time), and I feel your pain. But there are a few things that I’ve found that can help alleviate some of the scarry bad clutter that haunts your work area:

  • Don’t try to clean it all at once – If you’re like me, you have quite a bit of messy area to contend with. Desks are covered, floors too at times. You might even have things posted up all over the walls, covering up perfectly good paint (and no, it’s not holding up the wall). So, what to do about it all? Well, I know for me, the task of taking care of all of it at once is a rather large chore. So, my advice – break it up into chunks. If you’re at work all day and your desk is hard to do much more than type on, pick up a little when you first get in. It doesn’t have to be anything amazing, just take a stack of papers, look through them, figure out what you need and don’t need and toss ‘em. Only keep the things that you need, not the “might need laters”. Trust me, you can always find the information on those later. And, if it’s not papers that are mounding on your desk but supplies (pens/pencils/trolls/small animals), consider better places to put them. Writing implements, save one to always keep on hand, go away in the drawer. Books and magazines can go up in the rack/bookshelf where they belong (you do have a bookshelf, right?). But remember, you’re not trying to tackle the whole thing at once. You just need to go a bit at a time. Do one stack in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Two to three stacks a day and you’re definitely on your way to a cleaner, clearer work environment.
  • Don’t keep the maybes. Go with your gut. – This goes hand in hand with a lot of the things mentioned above, but I think it needs to be reinforced. When you’re going through things, look at it but don’t read it – then go with your gut. If you get your mind too overly involved, you’re going to keep it. It’s that simple. Trust me, this is coming from experience. I’ve kept way too much stuff over the years because of one sentimental reason or another and usually just threw it out down the line anyway. No, I’m not talking about the fun little knick-knacks that are parked all around your monitor. I’m talking about papers that you haven’t used in a year, or books that have enough dust on them to draw a smiley face. Find a trash can for the papers and find a (upright) place for the books too live, either in your shelves or in someone elses. (Yes, *gasp*, I’m a propnent of giving books away when they’ve lost their usefulness to me. Besides, most of my web programming work is documented somewhere online anyway, so who needs dead trees?). Even writing tools can go the way of the dodo and need to be tossed – small pencil nubs or pens that have leaked in the past but “seem okay now”. Get rid of them. Toss them in with the remins of your lunch and be done with them. Keeping around things that work and are productive not only help your work, but can make you more productive (well, okay, not everyone, but it can help).
  • Cables, cables everywhere… – This applies more to the hardware-inclined out there, but everyone can suffer if they’re not watching closely. “Cable creep” (much like “feature creep”) can be deadly if left unchecked. Well, not so much deadly as really annoying. I have to admit, I’m an Apple fan, and there’s one thing that I really like about the way their machines are designed – simplicity. Not just the simplicity in their elegant OS or their leader-of-the-pack hardware designs, but because of how they structure the power cables of their machines. It makes me happy that my Cinema Display only plugs into the back of my PowerMac and doesn’t require an external power source. One cable versus two. Sure, it’s not much, but when you compound that into all of the little gadgets and items on your desk, that can really add up. No, I’m not proposing that you go out and buy a Mac (though I think you’d like it if you did), but I am asking you to talk a good, long look at the electronic snakes that are winding their way across your desk. I’m sure some of them belong to items not even a part of your daily routine, yet they remain hooked up to their ports, taking up space and generally making your desk more cluttered. One solution, of course, is to take the offending cables off, especially the ones that you use less than twice a week and put them away in a drawer/bag/someone else’s cube – anything to get them off of your desk. I know I’m bad about leaving things plugged in, and I leave them there in my “Clutter Blind Spot” to wait for a day when they’ll be forced to move.
  • Loose the “Clutter Blinders” – I’m as guilty as the next person of letting things stay where they lie. Papers are placed on top of others, cables and other hardware is moved to make way for something else only adding to the clutter. I get so focused on what I’m doing through out the day, though, that I don’t notice the clutter as much. I can push it out of my mind and continue on my merry way, doing my work unhindered. Now, I know some people out there are looking at me (well, reading this) and thinking that it would drive them crazy to be like that. Well, good thing you’re not me then – different people have different tolerance levels for the clutter they can stand. Some people get a bit bent out of shape if there’s a random piece of dirt or grime on a desktop, and some only have clear areas around their keyboard and mouse (yes, this is me right now). So stop, take a look around you, and really take in what your work area looks like. Would you have room to write something down without having to hold the notepad or put it on a book/stack of papers? Do you have the room to be flexible with the placement of your computer? Can you move at all? (Ah, Milton flashbacks) Chances are, if you either answered “no” or “well, of course I can…I think” to any of the above, get those blinders off, pick up a stack, and get to work.

Okay, that’s enough of that for now….I’m off to take a bit of my own medicine and make this cube a little more “ship-shape”. Once again, please feel free to leave some comments below – especially if you found this at all useful. There’s more tips where these came from, but I want to be sure I’m not just rambling to no one out there. If you submit a comment and don’t see it right away, it’s because I’m not online (I know! I actually have life outside of the keyboard!), but I’m regularly checking the admin on this blog for new comments to approve, so it shouldn’t be too far away…

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