293: E = Ergophobia

Our environment affects our mental health and vice versa. If our office is disorganized, our minds may feel scattered as well.  Also, if we are under stress, our office might show visible signs of neglect and overwhelm.  Maintaining a system for organizing your office can decrease stress, curb anxiety and promote efficiency.

My mentor is a brilliant clinician but a bit of a “nutty professor” type.  When I’ve referred clients to him in the past, I’ve had to coach them to look beyond the random boxes, large piles of paper, dead plants and empty Red Bull cans that littered his crowded office.  Most people could roll with it, but a couple reported they couldn’t deal after attending a session or two and asked for a different referral.  I decided to give my mentor some tough love.  I told him his disorganization was not just a quirky idiosyncrasy, it was costing him business.  

Being a smart man, he didn’t argue with me and hired somebody to help him organize his office.  A couple weeks later, I stopped by and saw the surface of his desk for the first time.  The room looked larger and brighter.  Recently over coffee (almost a year later) he smiled broadly saying he feels better and his clients appreciate his new dedication to organization.

Keeping a home office organized is just as important, if not more.  Nobody needs the bad feng shui of messy paperwork in the same place as that they rest their head.

Organization is a lifestyle that takes discipline, much like practicing proper nutrition or a healthy exercise regimen. Mental health issues like anxiety, depression, grief and ADD can all negatively impact organization.  Seek therapy and get the help of a personal organizer as needed.

Pooja Gugnani of Organizing with You and I have cross referred numerous clients and even collaborated on a television segment.  For the office, she recommends the following tips:   

1) PURGE and organize your office, especially your desk. Have a place for everything and put everything in its place. Compartmentalize, label, and have an excess supplies drawer. Limit the number of picture frames and plants. Have a dry/erase board in your office for reminders and quick notes. Think vertical and keep things off the floor as much as possible.  Clean your office at least once a week or hire a cleaning service.

(I recommend throwing things away as quickly and frequently as possible. Scan documents so you can pitch them to create space.  I also try not to collect more junk, like freebees from conferences–do I really need another stress ball? I have created a ritual of leaving my office organized at the end of the day, which makes walking in the next morning so much more manageable.)

2) Have a system for sorting your papers. Papers can become a huge source of clutter so create a simple, yet efficient system. For example, have a compartmentalized tray that allows you to sort your papers into items that need action and those that need to be filed away.

(I had a bad habit of stacking unrelated papers, which is a huge waste of time and source of frustration–the tray system has really helped. I try to file things away at least once a week so that tray doesn’t become overwhelming.) 

3) Use technology to manage tasks and projects.  Have a way to track incoming items, a system to manage your current projects and associated documentation, and also schedule prompts to follow up after each of your projects are completed.  Consider a task management tool such as Remember the Milk or Wunderlist.

(I flag important emails, keep a To Do List on my phone, and use Basecamp for project management.)

4) Color code your filing system. Visual processes like this can really help save you time. Also, think about labeling your system in broad categories as much as possible, because having too many categories can sometimes create a visual chaos.

(As a therapist, I code my closed files by year so I know when I can shred records that are more than seven years old.) 

5) Have a logical system to keep your emails in order. Set up a simple and effective email reference system. Delete emails you don’t need right away and label certain senders as “junk”.  Label the other emails in a way that makes sense for you, for example, “Do, Delegate, and Defer”.  If possible, use the same labels you use for your compartmentalized paper tray, as this can make your life really easy!

(No lie, I have 94,000 emails in my inbox because I rarely delete them… Off to implement these suggestions!)