The GM of an international consumer products firm called me in. She described herself as a reformed paperholic - she'd read Getting A Grip On The Paper War some time before and had become a zealot for clean and orderly offices: it had made a huge difference to her ability to do her job efficiently. Now it was time to ripple the benefits further down the line.

A number of her team had offices with nearly half the space filled with either 'stuff' left by the previous incumbent or a smorgasbord of paper, equipment and supplies perched in random and unexpected cubby holes, waiting 'until I get time!' Is your office like that?

If so, the sort-out process I taught them might also help you:

Key Principle 1 - Put Like With Like


Key Principle 2 - Touch Everything

Key Principle 3 - Don't Get Into Analysis Now - Just Make The Piles

Before you can create order, first you have to create chaos! Pull out every piece of paper, every file, every piece of equipment, and make one pile for each category. The floor will quickly become a patchwork quilt with skinny pathways for your feet, but that's fine. It's the only surface big enough to do the sorting. As you identify each new category, write a little label and place it beside the new pile: otherwise you'll quickly get into a worse muddle.

As you handle everything, you'll have a big pile of throw-aways, possibly another for secure destruction (if it's commercially sensitive), several heaps of things to go to other places or people, a heap of archival material, and a miscellany of other topics. These will be a mix of current but long-term projects, other topics you work constantly with, and a range of administrative files you need to keep on hand.

Only when everything is emptied - desks, cupboards, drawers, in-trays and files - can you start to put back (and this is the fast and energising part).

Key Principle 4 - The Space Closest To You Is The Most Precious

Before you decide where to put everything, ask yourself: 'What do I use most of the time?' If it's reference material you don't use constantly, put it further away. If it's something you use nearly every day, or several times a day, have it within arm's reach whilst you're at your desk.

Key Principle 5 - Have Only One Place For Each Item You Currently Use


As we neared the finish, one of the team made a very good observation: 'I was tidy, but not organised!' What a truth! There's a world of difference between the two. An office can look superficially tidy, but poor organisation will cause the poor owner to tailspin while they look in six different places!

In a future article I'll share more tips on how to sustain the improvement. In the meantime, have fun cleaning up!

Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity business, based in New Zealand. Get your free report: 'How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds' at .

To win a free place at Robyn's monthly Getting A Grip Breakfast Club seminar (valued at $95) in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, email your entry to: (3 free places per month). More details at: