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How to create a physical space that promotes your strategic work

This is the second installment in our Declutter Your Life blog series, designed to give you the clarity and space you need to grow your business. Read our first installment here.

To grow your business, you need a dedicated physical space to do the strategic work of growing it—a place for dreaming, thinking and planning. And many business owners don’t have that. Instead, they work from a mobile location, share a space with employees, or have a desk that’s more of a dump zone than a place that promotes productivity.

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Whether you realize it or not, your space is either supporting you in your work or hindering you. To do the strategic work you must do to build a thriving business, you need a proper place to focus. Here’s a simple, four-step process to organizing your workspace so you can actually work in it.

Before you start, try looking at your workspace(s) objectively, whether it’s your desk, office or shop. Taking pictures will help you see the space as a customer might. If your business is a reflection of you (which it is!), then your workspace is the reflection of how you work. So what do you notice in this picture? How does it feel to look at it? What do you think a customer might think of the way you do business based on this image? The answers might surprise you.

Now, let’s get started.

1. Purge the obvious clutter

A cluttered desk is a major distraction. It prevents you from seeing the tasks that require immediate action and may give the impression that you have much more to do than is true, which can create an unnecessary sense of overwhelm. So the first step in organizing your workspace is to completely clean it up. A clean desk allows you a space to focus on your strategic work without other items constantly calling out to you for attention.

Here’s the trick to purging your workspace: Do it in two stages.

For your first purge, focus on trashing the objects that are clearly taking up space—wrappers, Post-its, objects you’re keeping to remind you to do something. With what’s left, try using the same strategy we used to cut your inbox: Archive, Act or Assign. Go through your files, drawers, closets, and for each item, act on it, put it away in its proper space or get rid of it. Move anything you don’t know what to do with yet to a pile. This pile will become your second purge, so don’t worry about it until you complete the next two steps.

While you’re clearing your clutter, ask yourself how it got there in the first place. What unproductive habits created it? Recognizing those habits now may help you keep your space organized in the future.

2. Set up your workspace for maximum efficiency

With less clutter, you can now start creating the kind of environment you need to thrive as a Manager and Entrepreneur. Here’s a short list of basic tools to get you started:

  • A label maker
  • Pens and pencils (keep your favorites and get rid of the rest)
  • Stackable paper-holding trays (at least three)
  • File folders (⅓-cut tab are best)
  • Extra hanging files (if you use them)
  • Post-its (3 by 3 inches)
  • Trash and recycling bins (within arm’s reach)
  • Paper clips, binder clips and rubber bands
  • A stapler
  • Plain white copy paper
  • A lined legal pad
  • A file cabinet

3. Standardize your filing system

The contents of your entire business should live in your filing system, which includes both your electronic and physical files. So standardizing this system is critical to successfully managing your company. Try not to think about your filing cabinet as a place to simply “save” things, but as a functional system that’s clear and accessible.

First, put your filing cabinet within arm’s reach so you don’t need to get up and cross the room to put something away. Otherwise, chances are that you won’t get up every time, and soon you’ll be right back where you are right now—with piles all over your desk.

Next, organize your files using these conditions:

  • Structure your files in an A to Z system. Develop a system that makes sense to you, whether it’s broad categories like Bills, Taxes, Utilities, or something more specific like IRS, Electric Bills, Accounting Statements. Then organize these files alphabetically for fast scanning.
  • Type all your file tags. You read typed print faster and more easily than handwriting, so use your new label maker to create tags that are one consistent color, size and font.
  • Don’t overstuff your folders. Too much in a folder will make it pop up out of the drawer and mess up your ability to quickly scan the drawer. To avoid this, create additional files or ask yourself if this file should really be a collection of subfiles.
  • Keep each file drawer less than three-quarters full. An overstuffed file drawer is a recipe for overwhelm. If you need to, get more filing cabinets.

4. Purge the not-so-obvious clutter

At this point, your workspace should be clean, stocked and organized—except for that tricky pile you put aside in your first purge. In a way, this second purge is even more important because it can show you the items that typically stall your work, items that you put aside to “deal with later” because you’re not sure how to proceed. Organizing this collection of items will help you refine the process of quickly acting on, assigning or archiving anything that hits your desk. With each item, ask yourself:

  • Does this item require action at all? If not, archive or trash it. If so, apply the logic in the next step.
  • Do I need to be the one to handle this? If so, put it into a to-do file and schedule time on your calendar to work on it. If not, pass it to the appropriate team member.
  • Am I keeping this to remind me to do something? If so, schedule time on your calendar to take care of the task and then trash that item. Or if it’s actually a bigger project, use it to start a list of "future projects" where you store ideas you can’t get to right now.

Go through this process until your pile is gone, with everything filed, delegated or disposed of. Then follow the same standard for anything else that hits your desk from now on.

Now that you’ve done the work of creating a productive workspace, take another picture of it. Compare it to your “before” picture. How does it look? Which business do you think your customers would prefer to work with?

In the next article in this series, I’ll teach you how to schedule strategic time on your calendar to meet with yourself to set and evaluate goals.

Kirstin Fulton

Written by Kirstin Fulton

Kirstin Fulton is the Content Manager at EMyth, where she partners with every department to develop content that inspires and educates business owners on their entrepreneurial journey. Her experience lies in writing and producing digital and print media for various industries, developing corporate events, and building immersive curriculum for both academic and business environments. She’s passionate about serving the EMyth community—our clients, Coaches, and colleagues—through writing that brings clarity, guidance and enthusiasm to the everyday.