Trick is being organized while reflecting your personality
By Monetta L. Harr

The Jackson Citizen Patriot
June 27, 2004 Information in our offices usually comes at us in five ways: paper; electronic, voice mail and verbal messages; and ideas in our heads.

No wonder keeping our office desks organized is such a challenge.

“Consider it like driving down a five-lane highway and you see orange barrels ahead, forcing you to merge into one lane. Precisely what do you do?” said Barbara Hemphill, author of “Taming the Paper Tiger” book series.

For many of us, it is easier to squeeze our mini vans into a stream of tractor trailers, motorhomes and SUVs than keep our information center — otherwise known as our desk — organized.

Every office supply store carries hundreds of gizmos and gadgets to help with that purpose. But all the shelves, file folders and book ends won’t make that happen if they don’t suit your personality, say experts.

“We all have strengths and weaknesses depending on our skills and natural inclinations,” said Hemphill, from her Raleigh, N.C., office.

“If someone is highly motivated, they can learn how to organize a desk. I am not in business to convince someone to be organized, but to help them be productive. Being organized is about being productive, to be able to do what want they want at the right time, whether it is finding their car keys or documents.

“It is about being productive, not being a neat freak,” Hemphill said.

That is the philosophy at Consumers Energy, where about 3,000 employees, or a third of the work force, use an office.

“Before we moved into our new headquarters, we surveyed everyone’s space,” said Jim Legault, project manager for the 3.3 million-square-foot building.

“We looked at what space they had, what kind of job they did, did they need extra laydown space, do they work mostly at computer. Then we gave them efficient, ergonomically designed space,” Legault said.

Employees can do what they want with that space — within limits.

“There is no Miss Manners walking around talking about desk organization,” said Dan Bishop, director of news and information. “We know people have different organizational styles. Most people think more clearly and effectively in organized space, but that is not true for everyone.”

Legault said in his 16 years with the company, he has only had to mention something to two employees. One was someone who had at least 500 empty soda pop cans in garbage bags in his office. He can’t recall the other occasion.

Anne Noble certainly isn’t that bad, but she admitted she probably pushes the desk decor to the max. Employed as a communications consultant for four years, Noble surrounds herself with photos of family and friends, stuffed bears and Green Bay Packer memorabilia.

“It’s a reflection of my personality,” Noble said. “I joke that I use it to inspire me, but it really is comforting. If you are going to spend eight hours in one spot, which I don’t mind at all, it is nice to be surrounded with familiar things.”

Sunny Schlenger, a professional organizer, coach and author of “How to Be Organized in Spite of Yourself” and “Organizing for the Spirit” (Jossey-Bass), said people need to keep re-evaluating their desk space because their needs change over time.

“What worked well at one point now might not work at all. Our job changes; if we work out of our home, we may be caring for children or parents. We need to keep asking what will make things work better, because you can’t improve your work area unless you are aware of how well you are doing,” said Schlenger, of Fair Lawn, N.J.

“People have different styles of working, and it’s important to understand how you function, what your needs are and find systems to meet those needs,” said Schlenger, whose Web site address is

“If you’re not sure what you need, clear your desk and put everything on the floor. Then, only put back what is essential to function. If you staple all the time or constantly refer to your calendar, put them back on. Then work a step at a time and see how it feels. Whatever is on your desk has to function, that’s the bottom line.”

Mark Lantz of California Closets, a company that designs and helps organize homes and businesses, said clients are almost always interviewed twice before an office is created for them, because most people have only a vague idea what they need for an efficient desk.

“We ask if they are right- or left-handed, how much paper do they store, how many files (legal, letter size) do they use, what are things they need to get to quickly,” said Lantz, who works out of the Walled Lake office.

“You really need to analyze what is going into the space, and the rest becomes a matter of logistics.”

Logistics is carried out another way, according to Jim Neville, manager of the Franklin Covey office in Laurel Park Place Mall in Livonia.

“We encourage people to sit down at the end of their work week and plan for 20 minutes or so and get laser vision of what they want to accomplish the next week,” Neville said. “Then, on a daily basis, take five or 10 minutes at the end of each day to get organized for the next day. That sets you up for a fresh start the next morning instead of walking into a cluttered mess.”

Neville said a popular book the store sells for the organizationally challenged is “To Do, Doing and Done,” by G. Lynne Snead and Joyce Wycoff.

A well-organized desk has the bonus of showing the boss you have everything in control — and that could eventually help result in a raise or promotion, according to Sharon Mann of Melville, N.Y.

“Keep your work space simple. You don’t want to have too many toys or personal items, but you want a few to feel at home,” said Melville, who writes a question-and-answer column in a monthly newsletter she e-mails to more than 100,000 members of the “I Hate Filing Club,” which she started in 1986. Four years ago, it went online (

“Every day plan your day. Come in and try and figure out what you want to get done, allocate the time and adhere to it. My desk in the middle of the day looks like a disaster, but at the end of the day I clean it,” Melville said.

Besides the possibility of a raise or promotion, there is an equally important payoff to an organized desk.

“Spending less time looking for things means having more free time for yourself, which is especially nice if you are working from home,” Melville said. “We have very little free time, so it’s great if we can give ourselves more peace of mind with less pressure and less stress.”

— Reach reporter Monetta L. Harr at

© 2004 Jackson Citizen Patriot. Used with permission

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