How to Get Started Organizing Your Workspace – “Where do I even begin?”

In honor of it being Get Organized Month and January 12 being National Clean Off Your Desk Day, now is the time to get your workspace in tip-top shape. Does the thought of organizing your workspace make you want to hide under your desk? It’s easy to look at the big picture – at how much stuff there is to sort through – and to become overwhelmed. Instead focus on the most current incoming information, papers and items.

Start with Your Desk
It can be tempting to tackle other piles and boxes that you have not gone through for months or years. But if you do not deal with what is coming in today and most recently, it will become another pile or box. Therefore, you need a system in place for handling your current papers.

First gather all of the papers on your desk into one pile or into your in box. Then filter through the papers or files one at a time. Give your full attention to each item and make one of five decisions for the item (in this order):


  • This is the decision you want to make most often to get organized.
  • Ask yourself: What is the worst possible thing that could happen if I get rid of this? If you can live with the answer, let it go.
  • Do not try to organize things that you should not be keeping in the first place.


  • Don’t work on things that others could do.
  • Work on things that only you, with your skills, knowledge and training can do.
  • If you can delegate it – do it. (And think of creative delegation options like having your older children do the filing.)

Take Immediate Action

  • If it is something that can be done in three to five minutes or less (sign and mail a form, reply with a quick e-mail, etc.), just do it now.
  • Be careful not to start working on things that take longer than a few minutes, as you will lose momentum in clearing off your desk and creating a system for current papers and items.

File for Follow-Up

  • These are items that require some sort of action on your part; however they cannot be done in a few minutes or you may be waiting on something from someone else to start. Therefore, file these items for follow-up.
  • You can use a tickler file with the dates 1-31 and months January – December and file them when you plan to do the next action or schedule them on your planner/calendar and make an action file for these current “Action Items.”
  • These items are filed in a system on or near your desk.
  • Open hanging filing boxes work well to keep up with follow-up action files

File for Reference

  • These are items you want to keep because you may need them in the future. But they do not require any action or follow up.
  • These would normally go in a file drawer in your desk or office, but not on your desk or work surfaces.
  • If you use the Paper Tiger system, you simply add the new item to the database and file it in the next empty file in the system. (For more information on Paper Tiger, go to or call us at 704-344-0210).
  • If you are creating your own manual filing system, name the file, file it and add it to your file index.
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