As work becomes more mobile, it seems that our physical spaces get less and less attention. We’re all on the run and instead of taking core principles of organization with us, we sometimes leave them behind completely. Whether booting up at the airport, hotel room, remote office or finally landing back at home, good organization can optimize any workspace—and boost productivity.
The first step in creating any functional, organized and efficient workspace is cutting the clutter. We constantly fight “object creep” in our lives—finding space to store items, arranging them, looking for them and cleaning around them. It’s time to pare down, scale back and focus on arranging our workspaces around well-designed, multifunctional items that serve us well. Rid your workspace of things you don’t use and start to ask yourself, “What is essential? What things help me do my job and what things am I constantly battling?”
2. Focus on task and flow
Next, it’s time to channel Henry Ford. Start to organize based on use and workflow by thinking of your office as a series of distinct stations along a small assembly line. For each station to work independently, it needs its own set of supplies. Reams of paper, ink cartridges, a stapler, letterhead, envelopes and stamps go near the printer. Boxes, large mailers, tape, a postal scale and a large table for packing might make up the shipping station. Consider where each station should be in relation to the others and in relation to the space. No matter how large or small, an office arrangement based on use and workflow operates better.
3. Designate a drop zone
Let’s face it; even the most organized people misplace things from time to time. Typically, we lose items we handle the most—keys, mobile phones, wallets, glasses, etc. To help avoid the time-consuming hide-and-seek, create a drop zone near the entry to your office. Reserve a large bowl or basket as a catch-all for the essentials. When it’s time to grab and go, you’ll know right where everything is.
4. Create a priority area
Designate a separate “in-process” area for those projects, orders or tasks that need immediate action. Keep all related paperwork, files and background information on-hand for easy reference. This approach helps you quickly see what requires your attention and makes it easier to dive in and catch up when you have a block of time or just a spare 15 minutes.
5. Make it easy
No space will stay organized if you don’t make maintenance easy. Avoid the top two pitfalls that overzealous organizers fall victim to: complex filing systems and inconvenient storage choices.
Simplicity and accessibility are watchwords to keep in mind. When possible, choose broad filing categories that won’t leave you debating how to organize your documents. For storage, opt for clear, easy-to-access containers and bins so you can see what’s inside without the need for labels.
6. Embrace simplicity
Simplicity goes beyond how we arrange the objects in our workspaces. It also includes the objects themselves. Go minimal by choosing items that have multiple functions like multifunction printers, all-in-one PCs—even rolling filing cabinets with padded tops that can serve as extra seating. Give yourself permission to finally purge items that don’t work, can’t be fixed and are just a hassle to use.
7. Bug out
For last-minute mad-dashes to the office or short-notice trips, create a mobile “bug out” bag that contains all the essentials: an extra phone charger, Ethernet cable, jump drive, zip-locked toiletry kit, energy bars, etc. If you’re prone to last-minute packing or work for a business that thrives on fire-drills, a little preparation can go a long way.
As we all look for more efficient ways to manage our work and our businesses, let’s not forget what’s all around us. Working smart isn’t just about better hardware, faster software and more mobility. Taking a step back from the virtual and refocusing on our physical environments can increase productivity and help us work better with far less stress.
Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist, and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.