Organization and Productivity 101 – Desk Control for Managers


Are you an organized person? Do you feel “in-control” of the information overload and amount of data that you have to deal with?  At one time, I believed – naively – that the computer, smart phone, PDA and other assorted electronic assistants would help everyone be more productive and organized!  I think I was 21, a new software engineer, and really believed that technology would allow all of us to have cleaner desktops and smoothly organized flow of work tasks, synchronized calendars and completed action items. Wrong! I still see project manager’s desks (including mine) piled high with papers and other detritus (a better and more precise word than debris).  As an example, here is a good picture of my desk:

Cartoon by Dave Walker.

Did you know that the second Monday of January is National Clean off your Desk Day? Ian McKenzie suggests, tongue-in-cheek, that if you only need one day per year to clean your desk, your organizing system must be good.

Dana Knight, of “The Indianapolis Star” reports that, “Employees fall into a variety of categories when it comes to workplace organization, the study says. About half of American workers are professional but relaxed, meaning their desks are organized but have a couple of small, neatly stacked files; 31% work among organized chaos; 13% are the creative type, or very messy; and 7% are prim and proper, meaning the only thing on their desks is a paperclip.”

OK- so you are wondering why am I on this organized kick?  I attended a Microsoft partner conference last fall and met an author who talked about this very subject.  And of course like most of us I got the book and never read it.  Well, I finally did read it and I would like to tell you about some organizational advice that may help you get control of your desktop.

When I was at the conference I heard author David Allen speak about his way to get “stress-free productivity,” which is captured in his popular book, Getting Things Done. His GTD system suggests that you will improve your organization and productivity by moving to-do lists out of your mind and onto paper, which is then organized into contexts, such as “phone calls” or “errands” and then sorted into folders for each day of the month. (I also believe in using a “to stop” list- see the guest post by my good friend Herb).
Anyway, on his website, Allen describes GTD as “Sophisticated without being confining, the subtle effectiveness of GTD lies in its radically common sense notion that with a complete and current inventory of all your commitments, organized and reviewed in a systematic way, you can focus clearly, view your world from optimal angles and make trusted choices about what to do (and not do) at any moment.” He recommends that you organize your workspace to:

  • Capture anything and everything that has your attention
  • Define actionable things discretely into outcomes and concrete next steps
  • Organize reminders and information in the most streamlined way, in appropriate categories, based on how and when you need to access them
  • Keep current and “on your game” with appropriately frequent reviews of the six horizons of your commitments (purpose, vision, goals, areas of focus, projects, and actions)

Also checkout this summary of GTD from LifeDev – GTD Cheatsheet. The workflow diagram pretty well sums it up. My advice is to learn more about GTD and then try it. You may be surprised.

I have found this subject very intriguing and so next week I will talk about what you can learn about a person just by looking at how they organize their desk (So if you are one of my associates – be sure to clean up your desk!)

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