A messy desk can ruin your career. That’s the word from a recent study on workplace neatness by CareerBuilder.com: “Nearly three-in-ten (28 percent) employers say they are less likely to promote someone who has a disorganized or messy work space.”
If bringing order and organization to your workspace can improve your career prospects, then it’s probably worth thinking about ways to do it.
My favorite personal productivity system is David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD).
If you are one of the 54% of office workers whose desk is more than half covered with papers and other work materials, or if you’re simply interested in how to be more productive in all aspects of your life, then be sure to check out the GTD system.
Here’s a simplified version of the GTD workflow methodology. I urge you to read the book yourself, but this will at least give you an idea of how GTD works.
- Create places for all of the “stuff” that’s on your desk (GTD is the ultimate “a place for everything and everything in its place” system). These places can be physical paper files in a filing cabinet, folders on your computer hard drive, or items in a productivity software application. You’ll need:
- A “someday/maybe” place for non-current ideas and projects that you may undertake later.
- A “reference” place (I like Evernote) for non-project-specific information (how-to info, case studies, and the like).
- A place for current project materials.
- A “waiting for” place to remind you of what you have delegated to others.
- A calendar for time-specific appointments, meetings, etc.
- A “next actions” place to list your upcoming obligations. This is different from a “to do” list (again, read the book) but can end up looking like one.
- Next, think of that pile on your desk as a giant “in” box. In fact, it’s a good idea to gather everything on your desk into an actual box or other container so that you can work methodically through it.
- Now, process everything in your “in” box, one item at a time. Process each item – whether it’s a scrap of paper, a file folder, a 3-ring-binder, a voice mail message, or an e-mail – and figure out whether it’s something you can do right away or where to put it for future reference or action.
- Do the stuff that you can immediately.
- Defer, schedule, or delegate the stuff that you can’t do yourself right away.
- Regularly review your places and project.
Getting Things Done can be tough to implement (it took me a few tries to get started, and I’m still working on my GTD-ness), but it is well worth your while. Getting all of the important things that you need to do out of your head and into a trustworthy external system creates a sense of well-being that is hard to match.
A few important notes to bear in mind. The list above is just the workflow part of the GTD system, the part that helps you control your workload. Equally important is Allen’s notion of perspective, regularly reviewing your GTD system to ensure that you are on track for your short- and long-term goals and operating in line with your values and principles. His use of contexts to organize next actions is also important. More on all of this stuff in future posts.
What’s your favorite productivity system? Have you tried GTD and given up? (If you have, you’re not alone.)
Or are you a productivity guru who doesn’t need to worry about this stuff? If you are, please share your secrets in the comments below.