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Summary:

There are times when it’s easy to get frustrated by the little inefficiencies in our work environment. Sometimes we just want things to work a little better than they currently do, so this past weekend, I set out to clean things up a bit.

There are times when it’s easy to get frustrated by the little inefficiencies in our work environment. Sometimes we just want things to work a little better than they currently do, so this past weekend, I set out to clean things up a bit.

#1 Organize the Priorities

The first area I wanted to tackle was my big-picture view of things. Although I had a pretty good grasp of what was most important, I found myself struggling with two main distractions: sub-projects and outside pull for my attention.

Sub-projects

I already had my income divided into three main “buckets,” but within each of those buckets, there were usually at least a half a dozen sub-projects competing for my attention at any given point, and I was constantly getting new ideas to add to the list. That made it really difficult to stay on track and make sure that the most important things were actually getting done, so I needed to decide on my top three priorities within each bucket. That way, when I sat down to work on a given bucket, I wasn’t wasting time trying to figure out what sub-project to work on next.

Outside Pull

Another common distraction was people approaching me to help me with their projects or to collaborate on joint ventures of some sort, which can be a good thing, but not if it keeps me from working on my top priorities. It can be tempting to want to drop what I’m working on in order to make room for a new and exciting opportunity, but the reality is, there are only so many hours in a day, and if I tried to do everything, nothing would ever get done.

It’s a very slippery slope, so I had to figure out a good way to track these outside distractions and make sure I didn’t allow othem to pull me away from my top priorities. I revamped my schedule a bit (a constant work in progress) and set aside three hours a week, in one-hour blocks, for “outside stuff.” For now at least, that’s going to have to be the limit, so when someone contacts me to write a guest post, for instance, or contribute to their project in some way, I can look at my schedule and see how many blocks of “outside stuff” time I have left. When they’re gone, they’re gone. That’s the only way to keep myself disciplined, while still allowing a little wiggle room for those shiny distractions.

#2 Organize the Environment

Another constant source of frustration was my work environment. There were all these little things that were just not working well, either from neglect or poor planning, so I decided to fix those while I was at it. Some examples:

  • The desk organizer where I keep my calculator, which I use quite a bit, was filled with scrap pieces of paper and business cards. Every time I grabbed the calculator, the entire mess of papers would come with it. It’s been that way for a year!
  • My desks had very little empty space for writing or organizing projects. I like to plan on paper, and anytime I do this, I end up bumping into phones and books and other unused clutter that is just taking up valuable real estate. I actually would regularly think about going to work at my kitchen table so that I’d have room to spread out all my notes!
  • My desktop file bins had become overtaken by takeout menus, magazine clippings, and stray notebooks that weren’t being used (because I forgot they were there). Instead of holding project-related notes, which is what they were intended for, they had become junk bins.

All those little aggravations and areas of clutter were just slowing me down and adding to the chaos, so I started cleaning out and organizing in a counter-clockwise fashion until I had the entire room cleaned back up.

The funny thing was, when people came over, they always commented on how organized everything in my office was, which is probably why it took me so long to realize I had a problem. It doesn’t really matter how organized it looks. Neat does not equal efficient or effective.

Stop and look around your work space. Think about the little inefficiencies that always make you shake your head in frustration and say, “One day, I’m going to have to organize that.” Set aside some time this week to tackle it. I was able to get everything done in two or three hours, and I know I’ll save that much time in improved focus in the coming week alone.

What are the little inefficiencies in your setup, system or schedule that could be improved?

Photo by Flickr user orphanjones, licensed under CC 2.0

  1. Every day I try to create a post-it note of what I need to accomplish during the day. Having a simple check-list helps me stay organized and I feel accomplished when I get to cross things off.

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  2. My vision board needs a little improving. I look at it and some parts don’t resonate with me, I guess it’s a distraction in itself.

    Great article.

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  3. [...] some of that effort was successful, much of the attempt was a nightmare and didn’t improve my productivity at [...]

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