Some 4,000 years ago, ancient Babylonians started making New Year’s resolutions, hoping to avoid famine, illness, and other punishment they believed their gods would cast upon them. Given the motivation behind the beginning of this practice, it’s logical to assume the Babylonians followed through with their resolutions. Fast forward to the 21st century: people are still making New Year’s resolutions, but it is estimated that 80% fail (Luciani, 2015). If your resolution is to organize like the stars of the Netflix series The Home Edit, to transform your office into a clutter-free zone, or to find time in each day to accomplish all the things that life coaches promise you can achieve if you purchase their books and organizational tools, those are admirable goals. However, since no spiteful gods are smiting those who don’t stick to resolutions, consider this article as a back-up, should you need to ease into the new year with a few tips to get you started.
Clutter as a Symptom of a Deeper Problem
In the article “Does Work Stress Lead to Office Clutter, and How? Mediating Influences of Emotional Exhaustion and Indecision,” researchers Catherine Roster and Joseph Ferrari (2020) found that office clutter was often the result of indecision caused by job stressors and emotional exhaustion. The higher the job stress and the more emotionally exhausted a person felt, the more that busyness and distraction prevented them from maintaining an organized office space, determining what should remain in the office, and identifying what was no longer needed. The clutter generated perpetuates a vicious cycle in which more clutter causes more stress, but it is difficult to break the cycle due to the exhaustion the person experiences, which in turn causes a lack of energy or interest to deal with the clutter.
If your once-tidy office space is now a cluttered mess, consider that job stress and emotional exhaustion may be the culprits. Colored storage bins and a labeled filing system may work well, but they will not resolve these underlying issues. Seek support from your employee assistance program and speak with a trained counselor who can help you. This is a free and confidential benefit offered by many employers that can help equip you to cope in a healthy way with the demands of healthcare and nursing. AAPACN also has several wellness resources available to members, including videos, articles and more.
Tips to Transform a Cluttered Office to a Well-Organized Space
When you’re ready to transform your office space into a place a guru of organization would be proud of, follow the tips below.
Tip 1 – Schedule a date and time to dedicate to cleaning and then organizing. Setting aside a time allows routine work responsibilities to be scheduled and completed before and after the time dedicated to organizing office space. This way, interruptions can be minimized.
Tip 2 – Designate the purpose of different zones within the office and dedicate space for each function. Common workspaces include the area on the desk where the computer is placed, with room on the side for writing. Another space should be dedicated to storing documents that are used often; these should be easy to access, to avoid losing time frequently filing away and retrieving the same material. Assign a separate space for references and materials that are used, but not as often. By allocating space for each type of need, you can streamline the process of assigning materials to the most appropriate space.
Tip 3 – Sort through clutter and organize it into three categories: trash, file elsewhere, and keep.There may be a tendency to keep things you think might be used sometime in the future even though they are no longer useful or current. If something hasn’t been used in years, unless it is a medical record or a facility document—which must be kept for a period of years—then it should go in the trash. Some things that must be retained may not belong in your office. Place medical records and facility documents in the file elsewhere bin. Finally, the keep bin should include things that are useful, used often or routinely, and help facilitate work.
Tip 4 – Personalize your space. Have fun, and use bins, baskets, or other storage solutions that reflect you while also enabling tidiness.There is much to be said for a space that feels comfortable and reflects your personality. A modern, minimalist office with white cabinets may put some people at ease, while others may find that stark and cold, needing bright colors and fun personal items to feel comfortable. Whatever your personal taste, organize your space in style that you find inspiring but that also helps you maintain your office transformation as a professional space.
Tip 5 – Moving forward, schedule time to clean andtidy your office routinely.This might be five minutes at the end of each day plus a quarterly deep clean, or a designated hour each week. Whatever the frequency, regular tidying helps you maintain an environment conducive to productivity and is well worth the small investment. Also, use this regular tidying as a gauge or warning; if time re-organizing your office starts to feel pointless, it could mean job stress is becoming overwhelming. In such circumstances, consider whether emotional exhaustion is a factor requiring your attention.
Tips to Organize Work and Remain Productive
Tip 1 – Establish priorities—and stick to them. Invest your time on things that matter and avoid distractions. Inspired by Dr. J. Roscoe Miller, President Eisenhower repeated the quote “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This philosophy’s approach to prioritizing and decision-making is captured in the Eisenhower Matrix, a simple tool to help distinguish which tasks should be completed, which should be done but are not urgent, which tasks should be delegated, and which tasks should be eliminated (Mind Tools, n.d.). See the matrix below.
Tip 2 – Organize your day into blocks of time and outline what must be accomplished in each. Splitting time into increments and assigning activities enables you to minimize distractions and avoid over-committing. Responsibilities that are not relevant to what must be accomplished should be postponed, delegated, or eliminated.
Tip 3 – Avoid multitasking. Instead, focus on completing one thing at a time. This may seem almost laughable, given that at any moment, the day can change when staff need assistance to deal with a resident’s emergency, or if the need to conduct an investigation suddenly occurs. But, whenever possible, use the blocks of time you assigned to complete tasks you determined were a priority, so you can remain productive and move on to the next thing.
Tip 4 – Take breaks. Continuing to stare at a computer screen, trying to force yourself to work, or attempting to complete a task when you do not actually have the ability to focus on it are not effective uses of your time. Recognize these as signals your mind needs a break and take time to refresh yourself. This could be a brisk walk outside, a short meditation session in a quiet place away from everyone, or a snack while chatting with co-workers about something pleasant.
Tip 5 – Be realistic. Setting unachievable expectations for yourself is a recipe for disaster. Instead of feeling encouraged by progress toward accomplishing goals, unrealistic expectations set you up to instead feel defeated. Give yourself grace to make mistakes and be honest with yourself and your team about what you can achieve in a given timeframe. This helps ensure you stay focused, feel a sense of pride for what you have been able to achieve, and positions you to better achieve goals.
Getting and staying organized requires intentional effort and ongoing awareness of our actions. As you ring in the new year, use the tips and resources outlined in this article to renew your focus—and help you achieve those resolutions to get and stay organized.
Luciani, J. (2015, December 29). Why 80 percent of new year’s resolutions fail. U.S. News & World Report. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail
Mind Tools. (n.d.) Eisenhower’s urgent/important principle. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_91.htm
Roster, C. A. & Ferrari, J. R. (2020). Does work stress lead to office clutter, and how? Mediating influences of emotional exhaustion and indecision. Environment and Behavior, 52(9), 923-944. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916518823041
For permission to use or reproduce this article in full or in part, please complete a permissions form.