Leadership Perspectives

Six ways to tell if your performance is being stymied by clutter

April 2, 2013

woman with clutterIs your office super streamlined, without a paper or knickknack in sight? Are your files – what few you keep – neatly organized, out of sight, and easily accessible? Do you know immediately where to find what you need to keep your projects on track, whether it’s the notes from last week’s staff meeting or a humble stapler?

If this description is making you uncomfortable, don’t stop reading now.  Take heart.  April is “Tackle your clutter month.”

Working in a cluttered environment is not good for most leaders. It hinders their productivity, robs their motivation, and simply adds more stress to their already busy lives. According to a workplace organization survey commissioned by Officemax, 77% of Americans report that unorganized clutter negatively affects their productivity. According to the same survey, clutter is also not helping our professional images (38%) or even our state-of-minds (66%).

How do you know if your performance is being stymied by clutter?  Here are six clues:

Do other people ever comment on the state of your office? Do they look around in wonder, mention your piles, or ask if you can find things? Even if you CAN find things, you are likely losing credibility simply by appearing to be so disorganized.

Do you find yourself distracted by the things around you? If you frequently wander off to attend to another task lying on your desk when you should be focused on another, your attention is being robbed by your clutter. You need to minimize distractions with a clean work space.

Do you misplace things? Hunting for what you need in order to do your job is no way to work – if you expect to be productive. You may think that leaving everything in plain sight will help you find it, but after you have enough things in plain sight, NONE of them are in plain sight anymore!

Do you have things in your office that you have not looked at in years? I had a client once that lamented that she was coming up on an office move and still hadn’t unpacked some of the boxes from her last move two years ago. If you haven’t used it in two years, then you probably either don’t need it or should keep it in archival storage (only if it is something that you are REQUIRED to keep).

Are you running out of filing space? Maybe you don’t have enough storage space. However, it’s more likely that you just have too much stuff!

Does your cluttered space bother you? If you are among the 35% in the Officemax survey above who reported that they “would be ashamed if anyone got a glimpse of their desk or workspace,” that is reason enough to assume it is having a negative impact on your performance. (Shame is sort of a deterrent to confident leadership, don’t you think?)

Are a lot of the workspaces around you starting to look like yours? You don’t need me to tell you that you are supposed to set the example. If your office screams, “Being a slob is okay!” that message will resonate with the team. If you don’t like what the workspaces around you are saying about your organization, you have to lead the way in showing how it should be done.

You probably have plenty of excuses for not clearing your clutter:  time, other responsibilities, indecision, lack of tools, etc. The list is endless. “Tackle your clutter month” is the perfect excuse to finally get that monkey off your back.

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