Close your eyes and walk into your office or cubicle. When you open your eyes, look at your desk as if it doesn’t belong to you. Now describe the person who owns this desk. Do they seem professional and competent, or frazzled and disorganized? Now remember that this is your desk, and think about what message it’s sending about you.
I am a pretty good housekeeper. My mom was obsessive-compulsive about keeping a neat house. She vacuumed daily, she ironed everything, and everything was put away when we were finished with it. She drilled into me how important it is to be neat and tidy. Now I keep a fairly clean house, and although I do not vacuum every day, I still iron everything. I want to give the impression to friends and family that although I am a full-time worker and mom, I’ve ‘got it together.’ Not always true, but always the message I want to send.
I was recently visiting relatives who were not brought up under my mother’s rules. The dishes were piled in the sink, the laundry was on the floor, the table was covered with clutter. Without me even realizing it, I recoiled, wondering what on earth could make someone keep house like that. I even commented on it to Warren (my hubby). How could they know that we were coming and not bother to clean up?
I was thinking about this later, as I was walking into my office. The couch was filled with briefcases, boxes, books and clutter. The desk was invisible under a pile of papers. There were Post-It notes and scraps of paper with writing on them everywhere.
If I were hired to work with someone who had an office that looked like mine, I would assume they needed lessons in time management, organization and most certainly, professionalism.
I am organized, I do manage my time fairly well and I like to assume I am professional. However, my office certainly didn’t look that way. And using the same yardstick I’d used with my relative recently, judging by my office I would have said that I was disorganized, unprofessional and not good at my job. It may not be fair, but people do judge by appearances. Once you accept that fact you can move forward and deal with it.
Getting organized: quick tips
• Use colour-coded folders, Post-It notes, pens and anything else that will help you see at a glance where to find what you need when you need it.
• Pile if you must, but try to avoid collecting piles of information. Perhaps invest in a vertical hanging file folder (which by the way I had… sitting empty on my desk).
• Put things away. Even if you have messy drawers, put your pens, staples, extra notes, paper clips and other bits away. It won’t take long to get them out of an (organized) drawer.
• Clean up before you leave each night. Many people keep different hours than you, and by leaving your desk in a messy state, you are leaving a message about yourself, even when you are not there.
I understand busy. I understand clutter. I even fall victim to it. However, busy and cluttered doesn’t have to mean unprofessional and unorganized. You want to give the message at work that you’ve got it together.
Make sure your desk is reflective of your personality, and reflective of your professionalism and efficiency. It shouldn’t be reflective of your work load. Just because you have a lot to do doesn’t mean it should look like a tornado hit.
Make sure your desk matches the message you are intending to send. Busy – good. Cluttered – bad. Check the success of your assessment with a couple of honest co-workers.