De-clutter your desk and inbox

A cluttered desk or workspace is usually overwhelming. It makes you feel like there’s too much work to do which, in turn, makes you feel stressed. The fastest way to relieve that stress is to clear it all out.

Usually, the reason people get to this stage is because they don’t make a decision at the time a piece of work first arrives.

It’s easy to think: ‘I’ll look at that later.’ Then, when the next thing arrives, it goes on top of the pile already there, or a new pile starts. Before too long the whole desk is covered.

If this sounds like you, we can help you clean up the clutter and set up some new systems, with the following tips.

First of all, get rid of the junk. There’s bound to be plenty of stuff that can either be thrown out, repositioned, put into archives, or taken home.

Next, deal with the backlog of old files (things that are not urgent, but are waiting for attention). This is the work that sits in front of you all the time, creating an overwhelming sense of pressure. One solution is to make a daily appointment to work for an hour a day on the backlog.

Select a time of day when you’ll be ready for a break from more demanding work and put a reminder or appointment in your diary. It’s amazing how quickly you can reduce the pile when you’re focused.

Next, set up a good system for dealing with new work, that you can realistically maintain. Put in place a way to prioritise your tasks to make sure you are attacking the most important things first. And always make sure the top of the desk is clear for whatever you’re currently working on.

Make sure all your other current projects are filed within reach,  but neatly out of the way, using a system which lets you to easily find documents again. An in-tray which does not help you distinguish between projects can easily become a repository of forgotten paperwork.

When new work comes in, ask yourself: ‘Can I do it in 2-3 minutes, or should I schedule time later?’ If it’s quick, do it now. If it needs a concentrated block of time, block a timeslot in your calendar and put it in its folder and out of the way. If you’ve made a diary note, and put it in a named folder, you’re less likely to forget it.

The same applies to email. If you feel you are drowning in your inbox, clear out all the electonic clutter it holds. Start by being ruthless - delete absolutely everything you can, then delegate any emails that would be best handled by someone else.

All your other emails will fall into three categories: information you need to keep and file; emails you can respond to quickly; and tasks that require time to complete. The trick is to get these emails out of you inbox - even if you don't have time to deal with them straight away.

The simplest way is to set aside half an hour to clean out your inbox each day. If an email contains information you need to keep, file it in an approporate folder, or save the attachments and then delete. If it is something you can respond to quickly, do so, and then - you've got it - delete.

Even if you need time to deal with an email, you can still get it out of your inbox quickly. Drag it over to your task list, putting in you 'to do' list in order of priority. If you set a reminder for each task, it won't be a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'.

At the same time, you should also block out some time in your electronic calendar for large or important tasks. If you drag the item from your inbox into your calendar, the calendar appointment will contain all the information in the email for your reference later.

Like a messy desk, a full inbox creates pressure and stress, and also the likelihood of overlooking important messages and documents. But maintain your system and you’ll have a tidy desk or inbox, a less stressful work environment, and most likely more time to do that things that are important to you!