Positive Path Recommended Reading

What Treasures are Hidden in Your Office Drawers?
By Robyn Pearce

'Have you got some staples?' someone asks you, waving a dead stapler urgently.

You always have supplies of everything - your reputation as the company hoarder is well known - but "just where" is the $99 question.

You rummage in your top drawer, embarrassed that they see the pile of junk that has sneaked in. You rummage around, dead bus tickets fly out and a tatty packet of chewing gum splits apart; two pairs of broken sunglasses, three combs, and a heap of other equally fascinating jumble tap dance under your fingers. At last, with a sigh of relief, you find the box of staples you just KNEW were lurking in the depths.

This doesn't describe you? I bet it describes someone you know! Obvious as it seems, the way we set up our drawers can make a large difference to our productivity. In last month's article we considered our desks and desktops and how to make them more efficient. This time, let's consider how to use your office drawers to increase effectiveness. The most common desk configuration has now become one drawer and a file drawer, and it works well. If you have the space, five pullouts and one file drawer is the ideal. Less or no drawers can be compensated for by alternative mobile and auxiliary storage systems, but for the rest of this discussion we'll assume you have at least the basic layout. (Some unfortunate souls have no drawers at all!)

Put your basic office tools such as paper clips, stapler, paper-punch, ruler, spare staples, rubber bands, eraser and pencil sharpener in the top drawer. Two reasons. They're less likely to walk (!), and having such items on top of your desk (as many do) crowds your working space and makes you feel cluttered. It takes a fraction of a second to open a drawer (if it's tidy) and reach for the equipment you need. The spin-off is a lovely feeling of space. I know - I used to have so much gear around the edges of my desk it left only a tiny area in which to work, and I wondered why my elbows were always knocking things off the desk! (And if your top-drawer sounds like the treasure trove described above - de-clutter it. Most of that stuff can go in the rubbish, be taken home, or recycled to the stationery cupboard).

Your current action has probably been lurking on top of your desk, so you won't forget it. Problem is - the piles get bigger and bigger and you're liable to forget things anyway. Its new home is the file drawer in a suspension file named 'Action - Current'. (Yes - get a label and pen and name it - there's method in my madness, which we'll discuss in a future article). Place in it the immediate or current tasks you're working on. The file is positioned at the front of your file drawer, or on the side closest to you, depending on the configuration of your drawer. If you have a number of long term items which don't need daily focus, but which you still want to keep close at hand, make a second file called 'Action - Pending'.

The exception, obviously, is bulky projects that don't fit. You've got several options. 

  1. Place them in their own files, also named, in the file drawer. 
  2. Use an upright periodical box with the sides cut away so you can see the contents (readily available in all stationers).
  3. Place them on a nearby shelf, but NOT on your desk. It's visual graffiti and a distracter. 

So what's left? Most of the rest of your 'stuff' can go in a suspension file called the 'Half-way to the Rubbish Bin' file (and I do tag it with that name!). The future contents of this file are probably sitting on your desk because 'you might need them still'. Benefits? The paper is off your desk but still within easy reach. You haven't wasted time filing paper you're probably not going to need again (and about 85% of what we file is never looked at again). If you do need to check it, it's not far away. Occasionally you'll need something from the file. As you touch each piece of paper decide whether you still need it. Throw out anything no longer needed. You'll never have a very fat file. 

Since I learnt this technique, about six years ago, I've never had an overflow. Think of it as weeding a garden - unwanted weeds settle into a garden just as easily as into our workspace. We have to be just as rigorous at weeding paper as we do plants, in order to keep order.

If you have more drawers, they can be used for a week's supply of regularly used stationery, things like often-used computer discs, and one drawer for personal things.

You've got no suspension file? Either get a wheelie one and place it under or next to your desk, or use drawer two to store your current action and drawer three to hold your '1/2 way to the rubbish bin' material.

Don't use your desk file drawer for longer-term projects to which you're not constantly referring - they should be in your main filing cabinet (if your work justifies having another cabinet). Remember the basic rule - use the space closest to you for the things you constantly need.

And now - have fun clearing out those drawers. You'll feel great when you're done!

About the author: Robyn Pearce, of TimeLogic Corporation, has helped 1000's of folks in 'Getting a grip on their time'. Visit http://www.gettingagripontime.com for FREE subscription to her email that includes "how-to" practical time management assistance, books, tapes, products, and more.


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