Take a tour of any office and you are likely to see some immaculate desks and others covered with stacks of papers. But don’t assume that the neat desks belong to more organized people than the messy ones. The appearance of a desk often has little to do with how well-organized a person may be (which is good news for me, given that my desk looks like a war zone…).
Your personal sense of organization may depend on something called brain hemispheric dominance. People controlled more by the left sides of their brains tend to rely heavily on logic. As long as you can find things when you need them, a clean desk surface typically means that you are left-brained. If you keep piles of paper on your desktop, your right brain is probably in control.
Regardless of whether you are a “filer” or a “piler”, running a business requires you to find information quickly, successfully manage deadlines and meet all accounting and legal requirements. But fighting your natural tendencies leads to disorganization. You need to embrace your personality type and use the following tips to develop a system that works for you.
The Pilers’ Motto– Out of Sight, Out of Mind
If you are right-brain dominant, filing important information in a drawer often amounts to losing it forever. This doesn’t mean that you are more forgetful than anyone else, but keeping items in view provides the visual cues that you need to stay organized. Take comfort in the famous quote from Albert Einstein who said, “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Then, use the following concepts to keep your stacks under control while easing the minds of co-workers who cannot tolerate the seeming disarray:
- Using file folders is still important: When a stack of labeled folders replaces a stack of loose papers on your desk, the papers look neater and corresponding information stays together. Plus, the labels provide a better visual cue, enhancing your productivity.
- Add visibility to the clutter: Multi-tiered vertical desktop organizers are a great way to keep folders in front of you. They are neat, they let you see exactly what’s in them with a quick glance and they free up surface area so that you can do your work more easily.
- Keep appearances in mind: Face it —customers visiting your office can lose confidence in your abilities if they see you surrounded by clutter. Not to mention that new accountant you want to hire is likely to quote you a higher rate if he or she expects to deal with excess confusion. Use attractive systems and color coding to illustrate organizational skills.
For Filers, a Cluttered Desk Equals a Cluttered Mind
For left-brain dominant people, any excess clutter can draw focus away from the task at hand. Your natural instinct is to create elaborate file systems organized by categories and subcategories. You keep files on the desk only when you need them and get them out of sight as soon as you’re done. But too much organization can affect efficiency, so keep these points in mind:
- Avoid over-categorization: Keep information that you use at one time together. If you need to extract 20 related file folders just to get through the day’s invoicing, you’ll lose efficiency shuffling through the paperwork — and lose key information in the process.
- Keep related items together with color: If you can’t resist splitting items into multiple chunks, use a color coding system. You are less likely to overlook important paperwork if you pull out all green-labeled folders when you do the daily invoicing.
- Stay organized while away from the office: As you go on sales calls or visit vendors, important notes are likely to get lost without some organizational system. Shop around until you find a daily planner book, an electronic organizing system or a smart phone app that lets you organize every random thought in a way that permits you to recall it instantly when you need it.
So, pile or file away using a method that will keep you organized in a way that is consistent with your strengths and preferences.