Your 6-Step Action Plan for Getting and Staying Organized

If day-to-day demands make it hard to follow processes, try these six tips to stay on track.

No matter how organized you are, keeping order can be a challenge when you’re tackling the day-to-day demands of a busy office. While taking time out to reorganize may seem impossible, it can have immediate and lasting payoffs. Revamping your setup and systems can make your juggling act easier — and save you time and frustration in the months ahead. 

Try these six tips from organizational experts and our recent poll of administrative professionals.

1. Clear out the old.

Get rid of anything you won’t need this year — outdated files, old marketing materials, forgotten knickknacks. If your company archives paper files off-site or has a document-shredding policy, be sure to follow the rules and guidelines when handling these documents. Scan other files that you’re unsure about — you can always delete them later. 

2. Fine-tune your filing system.

File away the items surviving your purge, and rearrange your filing system if needed. The best filing system is one that will help you find what you need quickly and that you can maintain easily. This could mean keeping a separate folder for all documents related to a project, or dividing main folders into subfolders — for example, for vendors and specific deliverables involved in a project. 

3. Bring discipline to digital docs.

Purge, sort and organize your electronic files in a way that matches your physical filing system. Take time to go through your email inbox, deleting messages you don’t need and using folders and subfolders to arrange the others by client or project. Aim to make your inbox a holding area for messages requiring action — not a permanent repository. 

4. Rethink your desktop.

Consider whether making a few adjustments could help you work more efficiently. For instance, try keeping the items you need most often on your dominant side — in other words, to your right if you’re right-handed, or left if you’re left-handed — so that you don’t have to reach across for them. If you tend to overload on sticky notes or other written reminders, try to rely on your online calendar instead. Having too many written notes can become a distraction, and they can lose their effectiveness. 

5. Reconfigure your surroundings.

How easily can you get to the other items you depend on? Are extra pens, folders and other essentials within easy reach? Is the trash or recycling bin close by, or does throwing things out require a special trip? A reorganization project can be a good opportunity to clear pathways to printers, copiers and other equipment, so that you minimize disruption. 

6. Make organization a daily habit.

Before you leave work each day, try to take 15 minutes to put away supplies, refile documents (both physical and digital), and update your to-do list. Building this into your routine helps you start fresh the next day — and it will make it easier to keep up with the stream of new documents, projects and requests that will inevitably come your way.