The 1 Folder Never Allowed in an Inspired Office

There are many tell tale signs of an Inspired Office: clear desktops, files that are happily used, and beautiful storage.  An Inspired Office never has a “To File” folder.  What a sad waste of a good manila file folder.  It had aspirations and was meant for better things.  There are a few reasons why these exist in the offices of otherwise reasonable professionals:

  • No time to file
  • No interest whatsoever in filing
  • A flawed file system

That was my being tactful. The “To File” folder is, do I dare say it, a lazy excuse not to file.  Strangely, the “To File” folder is usually more than 50% junk.  Peek inside of yours now.  You’ll see.  At least re-label this folder. Perhaps a better name for it is “Things I need to get off my desk because I can’t look at the crap anymore.”

Another funny thing about these folders is that they tend to multiply.  To start one is to find several, perhaps one for every year, with your Professional Organizer during an excavation one day.

Warning: It’s not a system and it never works as it was intended. The “To File” folder is always indicative of a broken filing system.  If you have a place for absolutely every paper that flows into your office, then it should be just as easy to file (or toss), as it is to pile on top of the cabinet.  I compromise with clients every day, but keeping this folder is one deal I never strike.

Are you harboring “To File” piles?  If so, peek inside and get honest with yourself about its contents, and how long it will actually take to file and create files.  Hint: it never takes as long as you think.


My Client Talked Me Into This (And It Happened To Be A Brilliant Idea)!

I'll let clients keep anything as long as they can make a good argument for it.   Recently I was working with a massage therapist who did just that.  She was doing a marvelous job of letting things go from file drawers, tote bags, and the desktop.  Even in sessions like these, where the recycling bags are filling fast, we can still be left with a pile of things that are somewhat useful or interesting, but leave us scratching our heads.  In this case, she didn't know what to do with a new 2012 planner, an ad for a local green housecleaner, and a handful of interesting articles and recipes. Here's her brilliant idea: she suggested we create a basket of "grab bag" type items and articles that sits out in her massage waiting room.  Anything in there is up for grabs to her clients who are passing through.  It's no longer cluttering up her space and there's a good feeling that one man's trash is another man's treasure.  It's also a nice addition to the waiting room, giving her regulars something to look forward to.

This works well for anyone who has a waiting area.  We agreed that anything left in there for more than a couple of weeks must go, keeping the basket fresh.

The Jedi Mind Trick of Office Organizing

We Organizers get a bad rap. Sometimes I have to reassure clients that I’m not going to force you to throw everything away: every precious memory, every useful thing, everything piece of paper to your name. I had a client once who, a day before our first session, sent me an email that said exactly this:

“… Also, do you force throwing out stuff, as I am a hoarder who wants organization not a purge….”

First of all, he was far from a hoarder – has a beautiful home in fact. I know from experience that it is near impossible, futile at best, to attempt to organize without a purge. I didn’t need to tell him that at this stage though. Fast forward a few months: he hired me back again and again because he quickly learned to love filling the trash can so much!

What I do know is that a very special kind of person hires an Organizer. I love this special kind of person. Usually it is someone who is suddenly very willing to let go of what’s no longer serving. If they can’t see it for themselves, it is my job to see them as one who is already experiencing a clear desk and clear head. When a client is resisting, I just remind myself of this. If they didn’t want to let go, they wouldn’t have hired me.

I may be giving too much away, but this is my Jedi Mind Trick of organizing: when they’re getting frustrated, it’s time to let them keep something (and then they always throw more away). In a recent casual conversation with a new friend, she asked, “At home I have a shelf full of crafting supplies. I haven’t used them in years, but don’t want to let them go. What do I do?” My answer was simple: “Keep them!” She explained more about her life, which then made me realize that those supplies represent a lifestyle to her. Allowing herself to keep these will surely allow her to release everything that is not representative of the lifestyle she wants. Releasing the tug-of-war over keeping these beloved things gave her instant relief – no tossing necessary, just a little mind control.

What My Favorite Billionaire Won’t Leave Home Without

How does the man who started a record company, space travel company, limousine company, wine company, bridal company, and an airline (amongst many other companies) keep his thoughts together?  One notebook at a time. For most of us, some days one business can feel like one too many.  If a single notebook was an integral tool in founding an international enterprise, it can surely work for every single one of us reading this.

In his own words, as excerpted from Losing My Virginity: “As anyone in my office knows when I’ve lost it, my most essential possession is a standard-sized school notebook, which can be bought at any stationery shop on any high street across the country. I carry this everywhere and write down comments made to me by Virgin staff and anyone else I meet. I make notes of all telephone conversations and all meetings, and I draft out letters to send and lists of telephone calls to make. Over the years I have worked my way through a bookcase of them, and the discipline of writing everything down ensures that I have to listen to people carefully.”

In an article, he elaborates: "I keep a notebook in my pocket all the time," he says, "and I really do listen to what people say, even when we're out in a club at 3 a.m. and someone's passing on an idea in a drunken slur. Good ideas come from people everywhere, not in the boardroom.”

Assignment: It doesn’t cost a billion, or even ten dollars. Stick a notebook in your bag to capture all thoughts on the go, a la Branson.  I think the guy’s onto something, so maybe we should be paying attention.  It could just be the first step to owning your own private island and game reserve.

Must-Have Folder For Organizing the Portable Office

Many of my organizing clients work between two offices: home and work office.  Nearly all of my clients have a bag or briefcase that serves as a “mini office” that travels between home and wherever else life happens.  If you fall under either of these categories you’ll benefit from a folder I created just yesterday: “Home <-> Office.”   This folder will permanently live in the briefcase and will be the only place where documents in transition live - no more used and abused papers at the bottom of your bag!  Note: it is not meant to store documents.  In theory, nothing should live in here for more than two days max.  I chose a translucent plastic folder because not only can you see if something is inside, but it takes a beating on the go in a way a manila folder never could.

If you have a bag that travels between two work places, then you know how used and abused well-traveled papers can get.  Treat yourself to a clearly labeled plastic folder that never leaves your bag, serving as a heavy-duty go-between.