While the inside of my office door is plastered with an intentionally askew sign bearing that well known slogan, Keep calm and carry on, there are times when I might well replace it with other slogans. No, not Keep calm and buy shoes, though that could be apropos.
Better yet, why not put an EA spin on the slogan of long-term ITT president Harold S. Geendan: “You know a person by the kind of desk he keeps. If the president of a company has a clean desk then it must be the executive vice president who is doing all the work.”
Pithy offerings aside, consider the results of a survey undertaken by the Swiss-based Adeco organisation, a Fortune 500 company that introduces roughly half a million prospective employees to 100,000 companies daily. In a survey released in 2012, 57% of more than a thousand US-based workers acknowledged judging colleagues based on the cleanliness of their work spaces.
So, armed with advice that a significant percentage of people – upward of 40% – negatively judge colleagues with messy desks, and that 45% of people view colleagues with tidy work stations in a more positive light, it makes sense to acknowledge that the state of your office has at least potential to positively or adversely impact your personal brand, or reputation. If you’re among the assistants who has good intentions, but tends to expend energies supporting others’ success at the expense of such matters, perhaps this can serve as the impetus to to bolster this aspect of your personal brand.
Strategies for A Different Kind of Sustainability: Maintaining an Organised Office
- Adopt a minimalist’s approach: I know; this can be difficult for many of us. As a starting point, spend a day or so consciously monitoring which items you truly need to access repeatedly over the course of a day. Apart from the clear necessity for various pieces of hardware – computer, monitor(s), and perhaps a label printer, calculator and/or scanner – on or beneath your desk, what else do you need? A notebook or iPad, pen, pencil, highlighter, and adhesive “sign here” or other such indicators for contracts or materials for your executive’s attention? If your desk contains a number of objects that remain untouched after a couple of days, consider recycling or discarding them, or assigning them to a different locale from which you can still access them as needed.
- A paperless office? The fact that many of us are progressing toward paperless operations doesn’t preclude others from sending us more, on a daily basis. Some EAs scan all incoming hard copy correspondence and maintain ready access to it in a data base. Many assistants, though, still function with stacks of documents. Try, wherever possible, to apply that same rule of thumb used with e-mail correspondence: handle incoming correspondence once, or as minimally as possible. Consider a trio of suspended file holders within your desk drawer or filing cabinet that you can dedicate as a short-term holding spot for materials yet to be filed, read, or requiring action. Book a recurring task or appointment with yourself into your e-calendar, so that you dedicate a set amount of time each day or week to turn to such materials in a timely manner and minimise the contents of such files.
- A sticky-free monitor: This may take some adjusting if you rely on stickies for must-do items and time sensitive matters not to be forgotten. To wean yourself away from stickies, invest a bit of time exploring your e-calendar’s capacities; use Outlook or whatever your employer provides to provide electronic reminders of such matters. Alternately, turn to a “tickler” file or a multi-tabbed, “1-31” sorter or book that you then check each day so you don’t lose sight of time-sensitive matters.
- A Place for Every List: Do you have lists or charts with key information tacked up to your wall? While in high school and college, I worked at GE and noticed that the sales reps had handy multi-sleeved organisers for their desks; they could readily flip through them for access to parts numbers, pricing and so on. In the late 90s, having landed a position where I was responsible for keeping the administration of financial and HR matters for a group of 90+ people on track, I took a look around one day at the multitude of lists on my desk and wall, and decided enough was enough. I ordered a 10-sleeve catalogue rack for my desk, inserted 20 key documents inside the plastic-protected sleeves, and haven’t been without such a beast since. As others in the institution saw the merits of this system, I became personally responsible for a run on orders of such goodies. I routinely keep an innocuous document inside the front cover sleeve. You’ll see such a rack in the photo on this page; I purchased this one five positions ago, and it was gifted to me when one particular office closed down as part of a restructuring.
- iPad versus notebook or steno pad: Years ago, eschewing the traditional steno pad, I adopted the habit of maintaining a compact, hard cover book for use in planning sessions and to record salient notes arising from phone calls and visitors to my office. Such books eliminated the need for message pads, and served as dated references to which I could subsequently turn as needed; over time, I subsequently shred the books’ pages. Recently, while I still maintain a book, I’ve been relying on my iPad in meetings where I’m a participant rather than a recorder; it’s a simple matter to then transfer key notes by e-mail rather than duplicating entries on my computer. My thinking is that this will also reduce the number of books I keep and temporarily store before ultimately dedicating additional time to shredding the contents.
- Schedule routine sweeps of your “catch all” drawer or cabinet: Use your e-calendar as a tool to remind you to periodically sort out whichever drawers contain a jumble of supplies. If you dedicate 10 to 15 minutes every four to eight weeks on such a task, you’ll soon realise that much of the drawer’s contents go unused. Return unneeded stationery products to the supply room.
- Personal photos and mementos: Preferences as to whether to display photos of family members and pets will vary among assistants; some maintain framed photos or upload them as screen savers; a couple of assistants I know are artists who have enlivened their offices with their paintings. Assess what the personal touches in your office say about you, and the messages you’re conveying.
- Delegate or Recycle: Malcolm Forbes said, “If you don’t know what to do with many of the papers on your desk, stick a dozen colleagues’ initials on them and pass them along. When in doubt, route.” After removing tongue from cheek, you may want to consider why you’re holding on to certain documents; are they relevant, or should they be archived, re-routed for review or action, or shredded or recycled?
If we straighten out our offices on only a semi-annual basis, or in advance of the arrival of special guests whom we want to impress, we’re doing ourselves a disservice on a couple of fronts. Consider the strategies that work best for you, and treat yourself to an organised, efficient office that speaks positively of you.
You may also be interested in …
- A Clean Sweep: Thinking Strategically About What Your Office Says About You (exceptionalea.com)