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How to organize and declutter your office

So what if you have a messy, unorganized desk?

When someone hires you to do a project, you get it done. On deadline.

And your client never thinks about the state of your office. Why would they care? Or would they?

Creativity or conventional thinking?

Working at a messy desk can help you think more creatively and stimulate new ideas.

So says a 2013 study by U of Minnesota professor Kathleen Vohs and fellow researchers (see the abstract here.)

On the flip side, they found that working at a clean desk promotes healthy eating, generosity, and conventionality.

As a B2B copywriter, which do you prefer?

And which do you think your clients are looking for: creativity or conventional thinking?

My bet is that more clients are looking for writers with fresh ideas and a new way to tell the company story, rather than a stale, been-there-done-that approach that won’t engage anyone.

However, studies done in 2010 show that a mess increases stress and can cost you almost two weeks a year in lost time.

The bottom line seems to be that a mess can boost creative thinking—but it costs us time and money.

How about a happy medium?

What about creating a somewhat controlled mess, where everything has its place but there are plenty of kooky, fun items to keep us inspired?

Now is the time to create that kind of stimulating but functional office space for yourself.

We’ve had very few entries in That Messy Office Contest so far, so there are some sweet prizes up for grabs.

And there’s still plenty of time: three weeks until the deadline.

To help you along, we asked an expert for some tips on dealing with office clutter.

Some professional organizing tips

photo of professional organizer Brenda Spandrio

Virtual assistant Brenda Spandrio is happy to talk about messy offices.

After all, she was once known as The Declutter Lady.

During her time, she saw some doozies. In fact, the photo above is from one of her clients!

And she learned the main reason why people’s offices get overwhelmed by clutter.

Spandrio says the biggest issue for her clients was always ineffective decision-making.


“Decisions are essential to making progress on any task or project. And those decisions do not have to be extremely complicated,” she says.

“The only real decision you need to make is this: What is the next action to take regarding this (book, letter, craft project, notes for my next project)?”

Spandrio’s recommended process for making decisions starts with asking yourself the following questions.

What is it? Identify the item or information.

What’s the next action? The bill has to be paid, the invitation answered, or the research incorporated into your white paper.

When is it due? If the required action takes just a minute or so, take care of it immediately. Otherwise, schedule the date into your planner.

Who needs to take the action? Can you delegate this to someone else?

Even independent copywriters often have bookkeepers, and some have virtual assistants to take care of administrative chores.

Spandrio herself now works as a virtual assistant, doing exactly this.

Who else needs this? For an invitation, you will want to pass the particulars on to others who are included.

For a white paper, you may need to e-mail a query to your client, or circulate your next draft to all the reviewers.

Where will I put this, so I can find it when I need it? Don’t think about where you should file something. Consider where you would expect to find that information next time you need it.

When there’s a date associated, make sure to note that in your calendar. You can also jot down in your planner where you put a certain item.

Set up some “holding bins”

in and out trays to organize your office

Spandrio highly recommends having a “holding bin” of some sort for things you haven’t dealt with.

For example, a basket on the counter can hold the mail until you’re ready to process it, instead of tossing it on the dining room table in a disorganized pile.

The ideal process is to have a specific time when you deal with these “incoming items.” At the appointed time, you take one item, make the appropriate decision, and then put it in the next place for further processing.

Sometimes that place will be its final home. Other times it will be a different holding bin.

“When the mail comes, I have a specific place I put bills that will be paid. I open the bill and jot on the envelope the due date and the amount,” Spandrio notes.

“I have a reminder in my Outlook calendar that pops up on Wednesdays and Fridays to pay bills. I can quickly see if any are due, and take action.”

The point of the process, says Spandrio, is to keep each item moving forward by considering the next action in sequence.

Postponing a decision is not procrastination if you assign a specific date to make your decision and then put the item in an appropriate place where you can easily find it.

And that’s not in a pile on the floor.

Getting clutter-free

Looking at your clutter, you may feel pretty hopeless. But rest assured; you can get organized.

After all, Spandrio says she wasn’t born that way. But through personal coaching from someone more organized than her, she learned to make faster—and better—decisions.

We’ll bet you can too.


And after your office is all cleaned up, make sure to enter That Messy Office Contest 2016. We’ve got prizes in two categories: Messiest Office and Most Improved.


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  1. EDWIN RIVERA on October 19, 2021 at 3:57 am

    You are 100% correct. I will tell my clients about your website. Fantastic.

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