According to organizational experts, the state of your desktop says a lot about your personality. A clean, uncluttered desk indicates you are a well-organized manager. Unfortunately, a lot of people, including myself, are often buried in stacks of papers and files. It’s estimated the average business person wastes over 150 hours a year looking for things. That number can be significantly higher when you consider your virtual desktop – your computer.
Whether on your literal or virtual desktop, most of us hang on to too many things for too long. Yet the thought of digging through and organizing all that “stuff” can be overwhelming. So busy entrepreneurs typically ignore the clutter build-up and as a result their productivity is impacted which can cut into their company’s bottom line.
To get your arms around your desktop organization, organization specialists recommend the “TRAFF” system which stands for Toss, Refer, Act, File and Follow-up. For initial office area clean-up, I recommend getting a number of large boxes marked with the various categories, and then start filling them up. I demonstrated this system on a morning television show using one of the reporter’s cubicles which was a real disaster. While sorting through stacks of paper on the air, I discovered a mirror that actually belonged to the show’s anchor who was conducting the interview with me. After a good laugh, the mirror went into the refer box so it could be returned.
Once you’ve done the initial organizational work in your office, it’s important to establish a system and keep up with it going forward. Stephanie Winston, author of Getting Organized and The Organized Executive advises tossing everything you won’t need in the next five years. She says it is important to act quickly on items that require personal attention and file all papers you need to keep promptly.
So what about your virtual desktop? When you deal with email, the best approach is to try to the “touch only once” method. Most people typically scan their in-boxes, purge the spam, quickly review the “real email” and respond to the most urgent – leaving the rest for later. Using this approach, you not only look at your email twice, but you wind up with a full inbox at the end of the day, requiring more of your time and creating more work for yourself.
Try applying the TRAFF system to your virtual desktop. Begin by setting aside a block of time for your email. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted, just focus on the email. Review your email from top to bottom (meaning sort it by date with the most recent first). This will assure you are looking at the most recent in a thread of email discussions where answering one may also answer five earlier ones.
As you go through your inbox, decide whether to delete the email (toss), forward it (refer), respond to it (action), file-it in an email folder or mark it for follow-up. If you read an email that needs more than two or three minutes to respond to or requires additional information, then move it to your task list. Remember, when you move an email to your task list establish a deadline and make sure you block off an appropriate amount of time for completing the work.
Getting both your virtual and literal desktop organized and keeping it that way will take time and effort, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll enjoy the benefits to your business.