Even if your office wasn’t cluttered before you started working from home, it probably is now. The space that was used temporarily for some light household admin and answering a few work emails at weekends could now be buried under a pile of paperwork, post-it notes, and half-written to-do lists.

As a result, your productivity is way down on what it was before, and all of the time you saved by not commuting to the office you now spend trying to work out what you should be doing that day. If you’ve decided it’s time to clear out the piles of paperwork and regain some level of control, here are some tips on how to do it. More importantly, some extra pointers on how to stop it from getting that way again.

Cut out distractions

The first thing to do is to clear out all of the distractions. The post-it notes stuck here and there are supposed to remind you of important things, but they can be distracting if they are constantly in your eye-line. If you can concentrate on the task in front of you, then chances are you’ll have it done faster than if you get reminded of something else you could be doing every time you look up.

Clear your workspace

If everything on your desk is getting in the way, then remove it. Only have on your desk what you absolutely need to get what you are doing right now finished. Everything else can sit in a pile behind you until you are ready to get to it. It is a case of “out of sight out of mind,” which means your mind is free to concentrate on what you should be doing.

Sort out an office workflow

You need to think about what you need to achieve and design a workflow for getting it done. You can start by investing in a good old-fashioned ‘in’ tray, and as well as an ‘out’ tray (or maybe just an archive box or a shredder). You’ll also need one marked urgent for those jobs that you need to do straight away. Doing this creates a simple workflow you can add to as you start clearing the backlog.

Replace your physical clutter with a virtual or digital equivalent

This last point is possibly the most crucial part. Now you have sorted out your office; you need to do what you can to stop it filling back up again. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by stopping clutter from coming in in the first place.

To get a clear picture of where you are (especially if you are supposed to be managing others), you will need a project management application, ideally with Gantt chart software. This software will display what needs doing graphically and shows timescales so you can prioritize your workload correctly.

Once you have this main box ticked, you will not need so many reminders, open diary pages, and pieces of paper with to-do lists scribbled on them. Having everything you need to do displayed in front of you is a lot better than having it piled up around you, and your productivity should increase as a result.

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