If this is the year you are going to take control of your desk, I’m here to tell you it’s not too late. There is plenty of time to clear your desk and learn new habits to keep it that way.
Here’s a plan to try:
First, set up four or five bins. Buy cardboard sorting trays or use receptacles you might already have on hand. Everyone can use “Toss” and “Shred” bins. You may also need “Pass on to others”, “Read,” “Needs immediate attention,” “For Client files.” The best categories for you will emerge from the sorting process.
Keep digging, tossing, and sorting until the desk is clear. This is NOT the time to read closely or over-think. The idea is to clear everything into bins, eliminating along the way papers no longer needed or retrievable online. If you can’t do it in one session, that’s OK, too. You don’t want to burn out, but schedule work sessions that are manageable for you.
From general categories, refine ones that make sense for you. From there, set up files. You can always start with “sticky notes” before committing to making final labels.
But the focus here is on your desk, not your filing system. Think of your desk as real estate. What belongs on your desk (occupying the most valuable real estate) are those files/papers needing urgent attention and in daily use. Less important and less often used items can occupy more distant real estate, i.e.: file drawers and surfaces.
Experiment with what files (and how many) need to be stored vertically on top of your desk and what can be put “out of sight” without the risk of being out of mind. Good labeling can help.
Once all is in order (it may take more than one session, even one day, so be patient with yourself and give yourself enough time), commit to a plan to maintain your newly de-cluttered desk. Remember, organizing isn’t an event, it’s a process. Schedule time every day–perhaps at the end of the day–to clear the clutter. And if you skip a day, that’s OK, too. Just get back in the saddle the following day.
You can start each day with a clear desk! Please let me know how it’s working for you.