Admin Basics - Office Organization

One of the topics I see in my LinkedIn groups fairly frequently is office organization. How do I get organized? How do I stay organized? How can I be more organized?

I'm certainly not perfect, but I know organization is one of my strong suits, and there are a few things anyone can do to keep their office/cubicle/desk running smoothly. As is my usual preference, a list:

  • Keep it simple. Really. The more complicated you make your system, the less likely you are to use it. I always start with filing alphabetically - it's universal, it's easy to maintain, and it helps you avoid the pitfalls of thinking you know what categories of material you have. (Trust me, every time I think I can organize by category, I wind up going back to the old alphanumeric system. Every. Time.)
  • Don't try to color coordinate at first. I know, the colored folders are pretty, but until you have a good grasp of your workflow, it will only frustrate you and add to the time you spend filing. Just use manila folders and white labels. The only colors I use are for my action folders.
  • Speaking of action folders - do NOT make a "To-Do" folder. That is where things go to die. You want to know the action that needs to be taken; clearly it's something that needs to be done. Do you need to forward this? Are you waiting on someone else to respond? Does this need a signature? (If you have signature needs, make sure each person has their own folder, and that folder is clearly marked "RETURN TO KELLY UNDER PENALTY OF DEATH" or whatever is appropriate for your office. Dismemberment is totally optional.)
  • Keep your desktop clutter to a minimum. I know the old saying "out of sight, out of mind" but the more cluttered your desktop is, the more cluttered your brain will be. I used to keep everything up top where I could see it, and I realized my monkey mind was not able to deal with ALL THE PROJECTS AT ONCE, because that is what my subconscious was doing every time I sat down. Even though I knew it wasn't so, I saw all the things, so I needed to do all the things. Paring down, using my desk drawers, and keeping only what I'm actively working on up front helps me focus. 
  • Get a notebook. My personal preference is the Ampad Personal 5X7 Notebook (note: I am not compensated by Amazon or Ampad and I usually pick mine up at Wal-Mart.) This particular one is small enough to keep out on your desk all the time, it has a hard back so you can take notes anywhere without needing a desk, and it is set up for my daily note taking setup. I end my day by putting the next day's date at the top of my next page and listing two or three things I need to do first thing, so when I come into the office I am ready to hit the ground running. Write EVERYTHING down. Even things you think you will remember anyway. I jokingly refer to this notebook as my external brain, but it's true. If I need to go back and find out when I did something, it's there and easily accessible. 
  • Also, make all your notes in black or blue pen, or pencil depending on your preference. Use the pretty colors to highlight important tasks, long-term projects, or to simply mark things as complete. (And you want to mark things complete. It will make you feel better.)
I'm planning on doing a series of Admin Basics, covering a variety of things I've learned over the last decade or so of working in administrative support. You can learn from my mistakes, and hopefully only make new and more interesting ones on your own.