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Get organized; Time to get control of clutter in the office

Q: I keep losing things -- important documents, meeting notes, etc. -- in the clutter of my office. What can I do to get more organized?

A: Think about possible reasons for your disorganization and then find alternatives to address the accumulating clutter.

>The inner game

Have you ever been organized? Is there an aspect of your life that you keep tidy and under control? If so, think about factors that make this different.

If, for example, your kitchen spice rack is in alphabetical order, how is that different than the files in your office? It could be related to interest -- cooking is more appealing than your work, so organizing it is more satisfying. It could be related to control -- you may have more influence in your own kitchen whereas at work you're more subject to the whims and demands of others. Or it could be related to pressure -- at work you may simply have so many things going on that keeping them orderly falls by the wayside.

If you don't have any aspects that you feel are under control, reflect on your feelings about order. Interestingly, some people are quite uncomfortable with it. Some may feel undeserving of a pleasant environment, others may feel that they are losing an excuse if things don't go according to plan.

This is not to say that these are top-of-mind perspectives; dynamics like these tend to be buried more deeply, but can derail cleanup and maintenance of an organization system.

Or, you may just not have the skills, so you don't know where to start.

>The outer game

Getting organized requires three things: resolve, a plan and dedicated time. Once you've made up your mind to proceed, first define what you'd like to organize. Note that it may be paper, books, etc., but it also may be your electronic "stuff" if you're chronically losing files or e-mails.

Then break it down. You may decide that you're going to sort through all of the piles on your desk. That's step one. But then you need new places to put them. That's step two.

You may not be able to do everything at once; but if necessary, be ready to do a thorough cleanup to build momentum.

Need ideas to start? Keep current items close and get the old out of the way. Put old projects farther away, even if it's just a less convenient file cabinet. Delete old e-mails or put them in a separate folder with a "delete in six months" label. If you haven't needed them enough to keep them in your project folder, you probably don't really need them.

Define a maintenance approach that suits you. It may be a zero-tolerance policy on stacks or you may prefer a weekly or biweekly cleanup time.

If you're uncomfortable in the cleaned-up environment, revisit your internal beliefs about clutter. Then celebrate your success, marking clutter-control milestones with a small gift to yourself of time, a special event or an extra treat of some kind.

>The last word

It can be daunting to get clutter under control, but it can lead to greater peace of mind, not to mention improved productivity.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes. Submit questions or comments about this column to www.deliverchange.com/coachscorner or e-maillizdeliverchange.com.

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