How to Clean Up The Clutter and Be More Effective At Work

I caught up with Laura Leist, who is an award winning entrepreneur that has grown her company, Eliminate Chaos, from a one-woman show into a thriving business. She has written eight books, including Eliminate the Chaos at Work: 25 Techniques to Increase Productivity and Eliminate Chaos:  The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home & Life.  Her Clients include CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations, law offices, athletes, media personalities, solopreneurs, and divas of domesticity. In the following brief interview, she talks about the types of distractions that make you less productive, how to organize your office space for maximum productivity, the psychology behind clutter, and the actions you can take daily to be more focused.

Dan Schawbel: What are the types of distractions that can make someone less productive?

Laura Leist: Last minute requests, voicemails that don’t answer questions left, emails that don’t answer questions asked, meetings without an agenda, unexpected office drop-bys, multi-tasking, lack of digital file naming conventions, lack of a follow up system, lack of a CRM, lack of e-mail templates, inability to share calendars and schedule meetings, social media, family issues at home, texts, lack of a paper management system where you can instantly retrieve or file information, not being able to prioritize, losing focus – just to name a few!

Schawbel: How do you organize your home and office space for maximum productivity?

Leist: Less is More! It’s OK to see the color of your work surface or have a clear desk. It doesn’t mean you don’t have enough to do; it means that you have less distractions from what you are currently working on. Every office should have a comfortable chair that allows for good posture and typing, good lighting, a “Daily Action Center” for current work/projects as well as a reference system for paper that must be kept – but not necessarily at your fingertips. Keep items you use often within reach; phone, writing instruments, stickies (yes, it’s OK to use these), stapler, scanner, shredder and so on. The needs will be different for each individual, but your work surface should look like an office supply store. The excess can be kept close by, but it need not clutter up the immediate work area.

Select a color of paint that either stimulates creativity or makes you feel calm; depending on your line of work. Keeping things you need access to – close by can be kept above a desk or on the wall – will allow quick access but not be distracting or take up space on your work surface. Declutter wall boards or clean white boards. Put up art or something related to your industry to create a space you enjoy working in, but does not feel cluttered. Downsize paper systems for records no longer needed after understanding what your retention policies are.  Store paper electronically whenever possible. Ensure you have backup systems in place.

Schawbel: What are some of the psychological reasons behind clutter and lack of focus?

Leist: Some believe that they know where everything is in their office and that how they are currently working works best for them. What they don’t realize is that the visible and non-visible forms of clutter cause you to lose focus and be less productive. Some are unwilling to make changes or be open to suggestions; which diminishes productivity. Some simply do not know how to put systems in place for any work they do; and that is perfectly OK.  Everyone has their own skill set and there are those people that are productivity specialists or business process consultants that see the big picture and can work with an individual, department, small business, etc…to understand the needs of an organization and work toward implementing systems that can be shared with others.

When individuals lack the ability to make quick decisions, this can lead to clutter in a variety of ways; what I like to call the visible and non-visible forms of clutter as well as mental clutter. For some that struggle with ADD or ADHD they may have a strong desire to be more focused, organized or productive, but sometimes are not aware of their current challenges or how to ask for the appropriate help to create processes that will work for the way they think and function.

Schawbel: What actions can you take on a daily basis to get organized and focus?

Leist: At the end of the day, select the three most important things that must be accomplished the following day so you arrive to the office with a plan in your head for what you expect to accomplish that day. Implement a task management and project management system – for yourself and/or others, make quick decisions, make the time to clear the clutter in your office that leads to a cluttered mind. Put systems in place to support your business processes so you aren’t wasting time. Review your calendar for the next day and week each day to be proactive about planning your time to accomplish the work that needs to be completed. Set aside “project” time and schedule it on your calendar.














Dan Schawbel

Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting firm. His new book, a New York Times best seller, is called Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin's Press) and his previous book, Me 2.0, was a #1 international bestseller.

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