How to beat the physical graffiti!

Do you remember your mother saying, ‘Pick up your clothes (or books, or toys, or ….)? The funny thing is, a modified version of the same philosophy – ‘Put it away as you go’ – applies at the highest level of business.

Perhaps it’s because our mothers told us to do it that so many seemingly well-organised, highly paid and otherwise neatly-turned-out adults ignore this sage piece of advice!

How many desks do you see covered with dead trees and miscellaneous equipment? How many drawers and cupboards hide a fascinating selection of junk? How many factories and workshops have areas with an embarrassing mess of lurking clutter? What’s the archival storage room like? (And how about your home garage?)

And when we return from a trip, or come back to the office after a meeting, the same philosophy applies. Perhaps you’re perfect, but an amazing number of folk put the piles of unpacking to one side and rush into the heap of waiting ‘stuff’. Then, a few days later the memory of what’s in the conference bag, the pile at the side of the desk, or the bag by their feet, fades into insignificance. However, invisible tendrils of distraction curl at the corners of their minds. The contents nag subliminally that they’re still waiting.

Multiply this scenario over a few months and you’ll have not only a messy environment but also a cluttered head.

Piles of ‘stuff’ are physical graffiti, a visible sign of deferred decisions.

Next time you open the mail, pick up a file or handle any object, take a second to decide where it needs to go before it jumps out of your hand. This is not to say that you major in minor things, running around all day putting things away. However, once the decision is made you can safely put things in a pile (either on the floor beside you, or just out of eye range to avoid distraction) and quickly put them away the next time you stand up. If you think you’ll forget your decision, pencil the destination on the top right-hand corner of the paper or attach a temporary post-it note.

The trick is – don’t let yourself leave your workstation without the latest ‘put-away’ material. Whilst the action is still fresh in your mind you will only take seconds to put things away. Someone’s waiting? Even the most important person will wait 30 seconds; you’ll feel efficient; and it feels great when you walk back in to your tidy office.

Write the following phrase on a memory card and leave it near your workspace:

‘Every piece of paper, every email, every bit of equipment lying around is a symptom of a decision not made or an action not completed’