October 16


How to Replace Chaos and Clutter with Productivity and Order to Your Home Office – Part I

The Networking Web - Catherine Saykaly-Stevens - How to Replace Chaos and Clutter, with Productivity and Order to Your Office – Part IThis system worked so well for my home office that I’m sharing it. It took me a couple of days to completely revamp. Did you think order would be fast and easy? 

At the end of April 2013, I finished my 5-year plan and then panicked. I realized how much work I had to do, and a book to complete by September of that same year. The house was a mess, my office a disaster, and I had not seen my desk in over year due to all the stuff accumulated on the surface. Everything had to be in view. If an item was not in my line of sight then I would forget all about it. It was a terrible, cluttered mess.

A friend suggested reading, Getting Things Done. This book provided me with a system to follow that would keep chaos and clutter out of my office and off my desk.

While this system does not cost much money, it will cost some time.

The Tools You Need

  • 1 book – Getting Things Done, by David Allen – buy a copy as you will reread it once every six months. (Not kidding)
  • 1 filing cabinet
    • Inexpensive option: 3 collapsible/stackable file boxes. You may need more if you have much paper to file.
  • 6 boxes – use as stackable storage and keep common items together (You can get these at Office Depot, Staples, dollar store)
  • Loose paper or posted notes – Lots of it
  • 1 calendar – I use Google Calendar. I have it on all my electronic devices. You are welcome to use a paper version as long as it is always with you
  • 1 favorite pen – it is good to have sentimental value
  • 1 label maker with fancy label sheets
    • Inexpensive option: blank labels and neat hand writing
  • 1 physical Inbox-It is nice to have a fancy Inbox as it is a permanent fixture on your desk.
    • Inexpensive option: an old shoe box works just fine.
  • Anywhere from 1 to 3 days booked off to get this done. It took me 2.5 days (with few breaks)


Read Getting Things Done, by David Allen. It gives you all the background for the system.

Here is a short version until you have that system down.

Productivity and organization after only three steps:

  1. Empty your office
  2. Label and handle each item individually and only once
  3. Consult weekly updates

Empty your office.

Pile every belonging from your office in your hall or living room. I needed both. Move every item, including those from every drawer, bookshelf, closet, paperclip and even every file. No exceptions!

OK, one exception, the computer. It is temporary.

Note: it took me 2.5 solid days because of the volume of accumulated items. This blog post does not deal with computer files, although organizing them was what I did the weekend after.

Now that the entire office is bare, and clean. It may never be this empty again. It is easy to dust and wipe bookshelves without books getting in the way. I’m sure some of that dust has been there since you moved in.

Label and handle each item individually and once.

  1. Map out in advance where every item will now reside in your office.

(i.e. This shelf gets business books. That shelf gets magazines. This drawer gets paperclips, elastics, and bookmarks.)

Temporarily label those areas with posted notes. You are going to discover how many posted notes you will use in a month. Buy a large pack, multicolour if you can. I got two packs of twenty each at Costco and six months later, will need two more.

The Filing Cabinet

When adding files to the filing cabinet, use the label maker or write clearly. Have a filing system to start and then add each piece of paper to a labeled folder. Feel free to use my system.

  • Banking: business, accounting & tax, personal, receipts, savings, insurance
  • Personal: ‘personal stuff’, photos, medical, memorial
  • Resource: newspapers, pamphlets, handwritten notes, stats, specific books
  • Client: by company name
  • Rejection Letters: Yep! It has its own damn thick file! One day, I will make a collage.

Return all items to your office to a pre-assigned place.

With every item you are about to handle, ask:

  • Do I really need this? 1 of 4 choices: back to the office; basement/storage; recycle; toss.
  • Where in the office is it going to go? It does not enter the office without a designated place.
  • How will I store it in my office?

(i.e. Paper goes in a labeled file folder in the file cabinet. Dictionaries sit in the bookshelf on shelf #3, labeled Resources.)

  • One year from now, how will I know how to find what I need?

(i.e. All paper is labeled in the file cabinet. All books in the bookshelf sit according to its type. Old cell phone invoices are in the business bills’ folder. Loose leaf notes from the Writers’ Workshop in the To Transcribe bin in the bookshelf bottom shelf.)

Now bring every item back handling it only once – if it does not have a spot already go back to (c).

 Any future items brought into the office will have an automatic place, or it does not belong in your office. This is the only way to kill clutter.

Congratulations! You are more than half way there.

 Consult weekly updates

In order for this system to continue working over time, you now have to plan your weekly consult. Any new item into the office goes into one place: the Inbox. Set time aside every week for the items in the Inbox.

  1. The Inbox

The Inbox must capture all the ‘stuff’ you have to do. It can be anything from:

  • the two chapters you have to write by Tuesday
  • the empty battery case you have to pick up
  • the document you have to get signed
  • the query letter you have to write this week
  • the book you must review this week

How the Inbox works:

  • Saythatyouhaveabooktoreview.
    • Place the book into the Inbox as the reminder
    • If you only have a digital copy of the book, on a sheet of paper or a posted note write ‘review this book’ and put the paper into the Inbox
    • Once the book review is done, remove said item from the Inbox
  • Anyitemthatmustbedonecan be written on a sheet of paper and placed in the Inbox. Remove that paper once the task is complete.
    • I have a whole sheet too much so I use posted notes.

How to keep the Inbox from accumulating?

If you are not on top of it, looking at a full Inbox can cause stress.

  • Set aside a weekly or twice a week regiment.
  • Handle every sheet once. If you cannot do it now, set a date to complete the item. Put that date on a calendar.
  • Write book review Tuesday afternoon
  • Email Mary the stats by Wednesday noon
  • Mow the grass Saturday morning

Now your Inbox also extends to your calendar for priority items. I do this step every Sunday by spending 1-1.5 hours in a Weekly Plan and watch the calendar for items due sooner. I prefer to use the ToDoIst reminder App along with the Google calendar.

Warning: If you let your Inbox accumulate and do not have a place for something you brought into the office, the system ceases to function. If need be, double your Weekly Plan time when you are busy.

You may find that you have taken on too many projects on the paper planning stage. It’s better to learn now, rather than later, that you have taken on too much.

Fall off the clear and clutter wagon? I do. Every few months. Here’s how to get back on.


Related Post: Part II – coming in January – What to do when you get overwhelmed and how to get back on track. 

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can't find anything on my desk, Clear Clutter, Getting Things Done, I can't see my desk, Organize, productivity, Productivity Tips, Time management, Time Saving

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