Cleaning Up My Work Area

Deborah Health Guide
  • Most of the people in the Classroom Management department at UC Berkeley, my unit, have relatively neat desks, with the exceptions being my supervisor and myself (don't worry, she knows she doesn't keep a neat desk). But one co-worker's desk is unbelievably tidy. I'm not being facetious when I tell you that I marvel at it, and at her ability to keep it maintained. Everything is either filed away in her drawers or in the file folder holders on her desk. Her inbox is emptied as soon as a piece of paper hits it. The only thing sitting out on the counter is related to whatever she's working on.


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    It's really cool. She actually has open space on her desk to do work, eat her lunch and anything else she might want to do without moving piles aside. I'm very envious of her ability to not only file papers successfully, but to maintain it. After talking to her, I frequently go back to my cube, look at my counters and sigh. I have piles everywhere, and they get out of hand very quickly. If I need even a medium sized area to work in, I always have to move a pile.


    I think that this is common for people with Attention Deficit Disorder. At least, it is in everyone I know who has ADD/ADHD. I think that many of us are more comfortable seeing our things out. Also, when we do put something somewhere safe, often we can't find it when we need to! We really do know where things are in our piles, unless they've been neatened by someone else, that is.


    Last fall, my piles at work got totally out of control. My whole counter area was taken, and I was having trouble finding things in the piles, which generally doesn't happen. Also, much of the paper was in the category of "file away," so it didn't really make sense to have it on the counter, right?


    I didn't have the time to do anything about it until I had to work on a Saturday. I brought my son with me, and he was using my computer, so I was at loose ends, since I was just there to answer the phone in case a final exam room was locked. It seemed like a good time to tackle the mess.


    I pulled everything off the counters and out of my filing cabinet, and put it on the floor. First I sorted the "file away" papers into piles. They fell into four basic categories: personal work items like reviews, training information that I wanted to keep, timesheets and time off requests and benefit information and flexible spending claims I had submitted. All of the categories had two or three different things in them. "Timesheets," for instance, needed a folder for blank timesheet forms and one for the spreadsheet that kept a running total of my hours and time off that I got every month from HR. I gave each category its own hanging folder, and made manila folder labels for the secondary categories.


    I went through my drawers and got rid of stuff that my predecessor had left and things that I really didn't need. I moved all of my food to a cabinet above my desk, instead of divided among all of my drawers. When I finished, I was absurdly proud of myself, although it really did look great (for me).


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    I've probably made it sound easier than it was. One of the hardest things about organizing is deciding how items should be broken down. I could actually have made a category for "Human Resources" and put timesheets and reviews in there. I went with the other categories because they made sense to me. Even though they seem effective to me now, I may have to revise my categories if I use them for a while and realize they just don't work. I have to say, although I'm still nowhere near my co-worker's standards for neatness, I am having an easier time working now that my counters are cleaner. I think that the two main hurdles were finding the time and coming up with the categories. I think that the latter was what kept me from doing the project earlier. I know that it's always a problem for me, unless the items have clear categories, like months or days of the week. It was worth buckling down and getting papers cleared off my counter. I would say that I save time every day because of it, if not every hour of the day.

Published On: February 11, 2010