Productivity expert Deb Allison Lee offers top tips on getting organized this year
Did you know that January is officially Get Organized month? At the beginning of each year, productivity specialists and professional organizers around the world help their clients define priorities and get organized for the new year. Also known as GO Month, it's the official kick-off for starting the new year on the right foot. Most people want to get organized, but we all know that sometimes it’s easier said than done. So it's not surprising that "get organized" is frequently one of the most popular new year's resolutions—it was one of the most frequent searches in 2017 with 33,230,420 Google queries!
In the past, "getting organized” usually referred to your physical spaces. Yet in this digital age, chaos and clutter is just as common a problem in the digital sphere: music, audiobooks, photographs, videos, and all the other digital content you have to manage. Simply put, this means you'll also need to have an organizing plan for your digital life, too.
Why should you organize your digital and physical workspace?
There are several reasons why you should strive to be more organized, reduce clutter, and see it as a priority goal this year. First, you probably already know that being more organized and having less clutter can propel you towards completing your goals— especially your BHAGs—no matter the industry or circumstance.
And, if you're like most people, you’ve probably experienced some common frustrations from letting your physical and digital space get a little out of hand, including:
Getting easily distracted and losing focus
Whether you're a freelancer, small business owner, or employee, there are no doubt several things you're responsible for managing every day. When your personal areas, workspaces, and devices (i.e. laptop, tablet, smartphone) are filled with clutter, you will likely find it more difficult to focus on what’s important. If you can't focus, even the simplest of tasks can be time-consuming, which only reduces your chances of accomplishing your main goals.
Wasting time searching for things
If you've ever gone down a rabbit hole searching for electronic files and important documents (like client agreements, tax returns, and SOPs), you know the real hassle it can cause. This is especially true when you realize how much time you've wasted with no real productive reward, particularly if you don't end up finding what you were looking for.
Drowning in duplicates
Speaking of endless searches, when you can't find what you're looking for, you can often end up with multiples of the same thing. Why? Because when you can't find it, it's easier—and quicker—to just get another. Yet this can take up valuable space, and without a system for organizing and retrieving your files, it’s all too common to be left with multiple copies and file versions that leads to not only more confusion for you, but also colleagues that need to work with the same files as you too.
If you have a hard time finding things or feel overwhelmed by a clutter-filled space, it's not unusual for you to experience higher levels of stress. Clutter—both physical and digital—can lead to persistent feelings of anxiety, burn out, and other ailments.
5 simple ways to reduce clutter and get more organized
Getting more organized and staying clutter-free doesn't have to be complicated. As you go through the process of creating an organizing routine for your home or office, remember that clutter isn't just physical. Digital clutter is an increasing problem, so bite the bullet now and follow these top tips to avoid the negative effects of clutter and start boosting your productivity:
1. Set small, intentional goals
Many people give up on resolutions after a while because they can be difficult to achieve. That's usually because those resolutions are often lofty and unrealistic. So, instead, set purposeful goals that are actually attainable. While you might start out with the grand goal of getting more organized or becoming more productive, take some time to break those larger goals into more tangible, achievable steps.
Think about what success will look like and figure out the specific actions you will need to take to get there. Don't stress about this. A simple plan can produce great results. And, you don't have to tackle the tricky tasks first. Take baby steps. Pick a task that's easy for you to complete, like removing items that are obviously trash from your desktop, or uninstalling programs you know you haven't used in months. It will be both rewarding (yay, you started!) and motivating (woohoo, keep it going!).
2. Create a home for everything (yes, everything!)
Everything you own—including your digital files—should have a specific storage location that is easily recognizable. If everything has a home, you can cut back on having to endlessly search for things you need. Of course, once you designate a location for each item, you will need to stick to that structure. Every time. Otherwise, it’s a slippery slope back to cluttered chaos you’re trying to get away from.
Using labels is a great way to avoid those never-ending searches both for your physical and digital spaces. You can use labels on desk drawers or cabinet doors to remind you where you put certain items. These days, you can also handily tag your digital files with keywords to quickly find what you're looking for (i.e. find an image of a beach by filtering results with keywords such as 'sand' or 'sea').
3. Be strict about what you need, and ditch the rest
It can be hard keeping track of what’s worth keeping and what’s not, and even harder to let things go. But the new year is a great time to take stock of what’s actually useful in your everyday work environment, and ditch the things that you don’t use. These days it’s so simple too—often a matter of dragging-and-dropping unused files and applications straight to the virtual dump!
4. Create a structure for managing digital files
There are few things more satisfying than a clear, clutter-free workspace. The same is true for the digital workspace. If you don't have a clear and consistent structure for storing and retrieving your digital files, you will soon get bogged down with manual file-searching that only gets in the way of the work that’s important.
This structure can be much more easily maintained with a digital asset management system as a way to easily store, manage and share your digital files, so getting organized is as hassle free for you as possible. That way, you have one central, online location for your content that is not strewn across multiple devices and/or storage apps. Consistency is key to good organization skills!
5. Schedule maintenance days
If you’re determined to keep an organized workspace, you also need to be committed to maintaining it. Start by creating an easy-to-follow routine that will help you keep your spaces free of clutter. Then, schedule days on your calendar to help remind you of specific maintenance actions you need to take. For example, you could:
- Schedule a day to shred specific paper files once a month or quarter
- Select a day each month to review digital content and remove duplicates
- Designate the last 10-15 minutes of each day to resetting your desk or workspace, or to organize the digital files you’re currently working on
If it’s on your calendar, then that will be a signal to your brain that it’s important. Add a reminder to your calendar to help keep you accountable and motivate you to successfully keep up with your maintenance plan.