If you discovered your career depended on how organized your office was, your reaction could range from complete composure to sheer terror. Even the most successful professionals sometimes utter, "Someday I'm really going to get organized," but purging files, organizing receipts, tackling piles of unread journals, or learning a new system (even one that will help you be more organized!), usually gets pushed to the bottom of your list of priorities while you handle today's crisis.

But can you afford to ignore overstuffed files, unlabeled folders, miscellaneous handouts, nebulous receipts, and a generally cluttered office? In years past, it was possible to postpone or even ignore "getting organized," but today it is not, for three major reasons:

1. The amount of information you have to organize is greater than ever before. Although computers once promised us the paperless office, most of us are organizing more paper than ever before. With the addition of computer files, e-mail, voice mail, and online cloud services, organization is essential.

2. The demand for a quick turnaround on information is increasing. Potential clients and current customers want a quick response.

3. The number of people staffing businesses continues to decrease with the times. That means we have to do whatever we can to create a home office that works for you efficiently.

So what is an "organized office?" Don't confuse organization with neatness. Remember that old adage "A place for everything and everything in its place?" In my experience, it's half right. A place for everything is very important, but everything in its place may not be. The stress comes, not from the clutter, but when you'd like to clean up the clutter, but don't know where to put it so you can find it again! To put it another way, organization gives you the "ability to recover." The reality today is that we often find ourselves in a crisis mode -- flights canceled, meetings scheduled at the last minute, etc. Good organization makes it possible to recover from these inevitabilities in the least stressful way.

My definition of "organized" is very simple: "Does it work?" and "Do I like it?" If what you do affects other people, you should ask a third question, "Does it work for others?" If the answer to any of these questions is "No," here are five suggestions to help you get started on the road to organization:

1. Remember that clutter is postponed decisions®. The reason that desks and filing cabinets become inundated with paper -- and our computers with files -- is that there are decisions we have not made. In fact, there are only three decisions you can make about any document: toss (or, hopefully, recycle), file or act. In my experience, in the typical day's mail, you can toss 40% and file 40%, which leaves only 20% to clutter your desk.

2. Use your wastebasket frequently and encourage others to do the same. When I first started as a consultant, I used to have nightmares that someone would call and say, "When you were here we threw out ... and (something terrible) happened." In over 40 years, I've never received such a call! Research shows we use only 20% of what we keep, but how do you decide what you really need? For each piece of information (paper or electronic) ask these questions:

Does this require action?
Does it exist elsewhere?
Would it be difficult to get again?
Are there any tax or legal implications?
Is it recent enough to be useful?
If all the answers are "No," but you're still not sure, ask one last question: "What's the worst thing that could happen if I didn't have this?" If you can live with the results -- toss it.

3. Implement a good system for keeping track of names, addresses, and telephone numbers. Many of the pieces of paper that clutter up your life are deemed valuable because of a name, address, or phone number. Choose a system for tracking this information, and use it consistently.

4. Create a paper filing system that works easily and consistently! If your filing system is not working, ignore it and start over! It is unnecessarily depressing and time-consuming to spend time organizing information you are not using. It is much easier to start over than to try and fix it. Clean out your most accessible file space, and put those files into less accessible space if you are not comfortable pitching them. Begin your new system, and as you need information from the old files, incorporate it into the new system.

File information according to how you will use it, not where you got it. For example, file seminar handouts you received at a convention under the topic of the seminar. To determine where to file a piece of paper, ask yourself: If I need this again, what word will I think of? The answer to that question is the file title. Arrange the files alphabetically. The key to the continuing success of your filing system is a File Index -- a list of your file titles. A file index is to filing what a chart of accounts is to accounting.

5. Manage your paper on the road as well as you do in the office. Every piece of paper you collect on the road can be divided into three categories: toss, file, or act. Play a game with yourself to see how much you can get in the wastebasket before you get back to the office!

So, you want to get organized? "Where do you start?" A good place in most offices is a "File Clean-Out Day". Grab some trash bags, wear comfortable clothes, and order pizza.

People often ask me, "How long will it take to get organized?" It doesn't matter -- just start somewhere! The longer you wait, the more time it will take, and the more difficult it will be. And remember, human behavior is not like a computer program -- it cannot be installed. It has to be nurtured. Learning a new behavior pattern takes time, but the rewards will be worth your effort!

Right now, you are in the right place at the right time to get a headstart on your paper clutter! Coming up next week, June 7, we are offering a FREE Tame Your Paper Tiger LIVE! online workshop. - www.TameYourPaperTiger.com

Join us as we celebrate my 44 years of helping others free themselves from the ferocious paper tiger that has been tracking them! You will receive the benefits of finding just how quickly you can subdue that tiger, with the help of our Certified Productive Environment Specialists™. Learn - and then practice - the techniques that have freed hundreds of others from tiger-bondage, all with guidance from those who have gone before.

Author's Bio: 

In 1978, Barbara took out a $7 ad in a New York City newspaper to advertise her professional organizer business. For 20 years, she focused her business on organizing paper and physical clutter for home offices and organizations. Then the Internet Age came about, and she utilized her principles and expertise to help clients with digital clutter.

Over the past 40+ years Barbara has helped 1000's of companies, and became an icon and top expert in the industry. She has been featured on national media platforms such as Good Morning America, The Today Show and CNN Nightly News. She has also been showcased in publications including USA Today, New York Times, Fast Company, Reader’s Digest, Real Simple and Guideposts.

Barbara and her team teach business owners a 9-step system to go from overwhelmed to optimized. Step 1 is a free Assessment that can be found at www.ProductiveEnvironmentScore.com.