What A Mess! – How To Be On Top Of Your Stuff

Imagine you are busy working on something and suddenly your manager calls you into a meeting. Right now, and please bring the documents you prepared! You already printed them and they are on your desk. But you’ve been very busy lately and papers piled up. Now the documents you need are hidden somewhere under other papers. And your paper work covers the entire desk. Hurry up, they are waiting for you! So you rush to find the documents – and there goes your coffee… all over your paper work… Great! Now you have to print it again. But not only that, also your notes on those files files are gone! But hey, at least you made it to the meeting – 10 minutes late and making everybody wait for you…

Know that feeling or seen it happening already?

Things like that can happen and they won’t stop the company from operating. However it makes you look cluttered and unprofessional. Maybe you experienced these situations already:

  • Looking for that chart you just created but can’t find it? Are you finding other slides instead, which you have been missing for a while?
  • Having post-it notes all over the place? Still forgot about a task you needed to finish?
  • Accidentally brought the wrong presentation deck to the meeting?

Seems like you are not on top of your things and you need to organize your stuff better… Because, if you are not even in control of those things, how can you be in control of something bigger?

Surveys show that the average person loses an hour a day to disorganization. It takes much less time to get and stay organized. Think about how frantic and stressed you are when you can’t find something. It doesn’t have to be.

Organize Your Desk

You will spend a noticeable amount of time at your desk and perform most of your tasks here. It’s your work and comfort zone.

Working in a cluttered and messy environment has the ability to keep you distracted and in most cases, create negative energy. Even worse, research shows that a messy workspace reduces your productivity and creativity. Getting up even just once a day for a pencil or paper clip is shutting your brain off a project you are working on and you will have to come back and re-center.

Getting your space in order makes it easier to get things done. A well organized work space has tremendous benefits. It makes you feel in control and lets you focus on areas that need proper attention. An organized space can literally eliminate distractions, position you for success, save time and help you stay productive and efficient. Also, you’ll be much more comfortable in your office space and that contributes to your overall performance and your creativity.

Your work area should inspire you, not overwhelm you before you even begin. That’s why this post summarizes the key points to get you started. Nothing fancy. Get the basics done and you won’t even need to look for fancy solutions.

  • Keep your desk and all the gadgets on it clean. This includes wiping it off (with water and soap if necessary) when it becomes dusty, after you ate, or when you spilled something. This displays your good manners, and prevents you from getting dirt on your hands and clothes.
  • Give everything a dedicated place. Even a pen! This will help you to find whatever you need faster.
  • Keep the things you use often in close proximity. If you use something very often, it should be within reach to not interrupt your flow.
  • Organize your drawers and treat them as extension of your desk. It’s best for supplies and documents you use regularly, but not often enough to give them a place directly on the desk.
  • Arrange monitor, keyboard, etc. properly, and hide away cables as good as possible.
  • Organize cables also under your desk. It looks better and your feet won’t cause any unexpected problems.
  • If you have a tiny desk, you have to think vertically to create more storage space. Try different methods to find what fits your personal style best.
  • Place a trash can near your desk.
  • Label folders you archive properly so they can be found.
  • Keep open spaces at your desk. You can use them to work on concepts on actual paper, or to have an area to discuss with a colleague who brought documents or a laptop.
  • Organize your laptop. Create shortcuts to most often used applications and create an easy to understand folder structure so you can find whatever document you need fast. Don’t just dump everything onto the desktop! It looks cluttered when you have to share your screen during meetings, and it won’t help you finding files fast. Not to mention that the space on the desktop is limited.
  • Have an “Archiv” folder within your project folders and move older versions of documents into it. This way your project folder shows only the latest version of documents, rather than all kind of outdated versions.
  • Make regular back-ups of your digital files. Usually, you will have a personal folder within the company network to safely file your data. Keep in mind: If you keep your files on your local machine, they may be lost when a problem occurs. It is your responsibility to make sure you have backups of your files so they can be recovered if necessary.
  • Organize your desk before you leave the office, so when you arrive in the morning you can get to work right away. It feels better to start at a clean desk and it is also more productive.
  • With time, things collect and become outdated, so you would have to de-clutter once in a while. Go through your documents once a quarter and replace them with updated versions or archive them. Trash outdated documents if there is no need to archive them. Be aware of your company data protection policies to dispose secret documents into the special locked container.
  • And lastly a bonus: Bring in some greens if you are allowed to. Research shows that plants can promote productivity and happiness. And it looks better than all blank and grey.


With organized work space, you have free capacities to focus on the organization and execution of your tasks. In the following you see the most basic, but often ignored tips to stay focussed on your tasks and not get distracted or waste time searching for things:

  • If you work regularly with specific people, create a dedicated folder for each of them, in which you keep the documents and tasks you receive and work on.
  • Create dedicated project folders for bigger projects or tasks.
  • Create meeting folders for bigger meetings. This is a central storage place for agenda, documents to be discussed and presented, and meeting minutes. Name the folder accordingly with date and name of the meeting.
  • Have a binder containing the most relevant files of your projects, so you have them handy for meetings and don’t waste time in case of an ad-hoc meeting or you forget to prepare for a meeting. This also prevents problems in case your laptop has an issues (battery, connectivity, etc.).
  • Create a To-Do List to stay on top of your tasks and their priority.
  • Do one task at a time. Don’t multitask. Studies show that you are very likely to sacrifice the quality of your work when you do too many things at once. Furthermore, you actually never multitask, but only switch from one task to another, which causes you to lose time with each switch. Our brains need a warm up phase before we can focus and work on a task. Focus on one task and finish it with intention. This will increase your productivity significantly.
  • A To-Do list helps you keeping the overview of your tasks. A Calendar helps you visualizing the time you still have for them. Hang a calendar on the wall and populate it with your due dates to help you prioritize your tasks.
  • Maintain your outlook (or other shared) calendar, so other people can see when you are available for meetings and when you aren’t.
  • Organize your email inbox into different folders to not lose overview when working on multiple projects.
  • Use post-it notes only as temporary reminder. That’s what they were made for. Implement whatever it is as soon as possible and get rid of the outdated reminder.


It doesn’t need a lot to keep your work space neat and clean so you can stay focused. Just some discipline and a wet wipe once in awhile. Nowadays, the mess is more often hidden in our computers. Organize and label your files properly and you won’t have problems finding what you are looking for.

In generel: everything that helps to reduce search time and distractions, results in you being more productive and relaxed. This way you won’t only look like, but actually be on top of your stuff!