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Cull the Chaos: How to Declutter and Organise Your Workspace in 5 Simple Steps

“Out with the old, in with the new!”

A new year is, indeed, an opportunity to decide what can and should be kept in many areas of our lives (both in business and personal) and what we can let go of.

This opportunity that presents itself every new year can highlight two sides of people…

One group of people might be eager to get back to work as soon as the festivities have ended. They might be itching to get started on what they have been planning in the last quarter of the previous year.

The other set might be less enthusiastic about their return. They might feel they could do with a little more time to recharge the batteries before making a go of the opportunities that await them in the new year.

Whichever camp you fall into, one thing is for sure.

Regardless of whether you prefer a gentle start to the new year or are full speed ahead and raring to go, the beginning of every new year has the potential of being slower. For this reason, it is a perfect time to declutter and cull the chaos so that you can feel fully prepared for when the world wakes up again and gets busier.

If it is a busy start to the year, why put it off and become more disorganised from the start? It is likely to be beneficial in the long run to cull the chaos now.

Most people are put off by the notion of decluttering and organising their work spaces and themselves because they do not know where to start.

It might be difficult to ascertain what to keep and what to discard but these five simple steps are sure to cull the chaos in a relatively stress free way.

In fact, by the end of the process you may even describe it as liberating!

1. Make the time

Setting aside enough time (or at least enough to get a section of decluttering done) is essential to make it a productive task for you.

Getting organised from the outset is key so have in mind you shall need a shredding pile, an archive box at the ready, a place to put documents that can be saved digitally and then discarded and a recycling bin!

It can prove counterproductive to begin a tidying frenzy with no preparation as you are likely to find yourself swamped in mountains of paperwork and rubbish!

2. Paperwork

You have undoubtedly become inundated with all the paperwork during the course of the last few months and by determining what needs to be kept in all of its varieties (documents, files, day books and so on), it will allow you to cull the rest.

Paperwork of a confidential nature can go on the shredding pile, the stuff that should be kept but not necessarily in hard copy can be kept to save digitally and the rest that is no longer required can go straight into the recycling bin. Whilst it might seem obvious, don’t be tempted to put all the documentation in the shredding pile. Shredding takes time and so if you can recycle anything in full, that’s definitely going to save time for you.

Be ruthless! In this day and age, there is little in the way of needing to retain paper copies of anything (with most legal or financial documentation being retained offsite for disaster recovery purposes and being retained in hard copy format for 7 years. Cloud storage comes in useful for hefty documents but it is important to make sure a good backup is in place first.

3. Files

Following on from paperwork is filing.

Any files not referred to in the past 5 months should be recycled, destroyed or archived.

An archiving system can be done internally by placing folders in boxes categorised by Client, subject or year. There are many ways to archive but as long as it is clear to you and any team members that shall require access to the files, the more simple implementation of this will be better.

If you believe you have enough archiving to send paperwork offsite, there are many providers that can do this - but be warned, most come at greater cost than you might expect

To avoid unnecessary costs in retaining files for too long, make sure a review is all archived documentation is completed regularly on an annual basis.

By going digital, it mitigates this (provided you are digitally storing it with enough capacity).

Archiving does not need to be limited to hard copy paperwork. Our computers, laptops and tablets are filled with unnecessary files,, graphics and other items that clog up our machines and can create a frustrating sluggishness and avoidable time delay in finding the relevant information we are looking for.

When setting up, and indeed if you find yourself falling behind in this, it is worthwhile taking the time to set up processes and systems that makes it easy to maintain and tidy up as you go along.

For example, a main Client folder might have subfolders that mirror others (Correspondence, Presentations, Finance, Events are just a few that might be found in each and every main folder you set up).

Within the subfolders, you may wish to further separate them by years. Whatever way you choose, it is important to note that it needs to work for you. We all operate in different ways and our logic varies so there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here.

When there is a lull in business (and December or January might be that time…?) setting up new template documents (cashflow, budgets, schedules and so on) for the next year might just be what gets you ahead before they need to used.

4. Emails

Similar to your digital filing cabinet, if your inbox is overflowing (my definition of this is if items in my inbox which are incidentally there because they need actioning requires me scrolling down because they fill more than one screen page), the time it takes to find something could be better utilised and the likelihood of something being missed is greater.

There are filters and search guns thins, yes, but by disciplining yourself to file anything that has been dealt with (from both in and sent items) allows you to reinforce what has been completed and what is still to be done.

Unread and flagged items are a way of dealing with managing your emails and whilst I might use them I. The most simplest formats, for me, the way I have always worked is anything in my inbox requires my attention and those left in my sent items (for now) can be a good list of matters that require chasing after an appropriate period of time.

I also delete any superseded threads, where possible, to keep and file one entire conversation to minimise the clutter in my email cabinet.

If there is any legal documentation or attachments that require retaining, this will be digitally saved in the corresponding Client file in my digital filing cabinet, as appropriate.

5. Clear desk

Where have we heard about a ‘Clear Desk Policy’?

I can’t think of anything worse than a cluttered desk but there is evidence that some clutter works to the advantage of some people (often those who are more creative).

Even for those that can cope with a ‘busy’ desk, having identifiable ‘zones’ can help productivity and clear the chaos that can sometimes be felt.

A place where documents for review should be in sight and those requiring immediate action should be closer to your fingertips.

Everything that is required multiple times

a day are likely to be close to hand so you can grab them easily (pens, notepads (one for each Client), stapler, paperclips, calculator to name a handful).

You should also have a reserve supply of the things that you get through more of. I order more printer cartridges when I replace one set. It would not be a good look to have to advise a Client I have run out of ink in my line of work, regardless of whether everything is becoming more digital.

Setting yourself a clear target is key.

You might decide to write off as much time as it takes to cull the chaos that is your workspace, or it might be that you divide it into manageable bite-sized chunks to be able to continue to feel motivated to complete the task.

I am one of those people that will carve out regular time throughout the year to get rid of what I don’t need. By doing this, much can be learnt as a business owner as needs and requirements change.

It also allows me to maintain my productivity at a high level because I always know where I am at, what is where and how I work best.

There are many steps that can be taken to cull the chaos and organise your workspace, however, keeping it simple is the best way to keep processes and systems manageable and allow for longevity.

Now might just be the best time to get started...

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If you would like further advice or support to cull the chaos and get organised, please get in touch with me.



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