Spring has sprung

Now that we're officially in the throes of spring, it's time to take up spring cleaning, whether we like it or not.

Unshackled from winter's dreary confines, we throw open our window treatments to let in that warm spring sunshine and, for the first time in months, we notice our beloved homes are disgustingly filthy. The normal human reaction would be to close those drapes in a hurry, but most people instead gird up their loins and tackle the Big Cleanup.

Often overlooked in this process is the home office. The public areas of the house may get a thorough cleaning, but the average private workspace continues to have all the neatness and allure of a warthog wallow. Paper piled to the ceiling. Dust thick on every surface. Drawers crammed full of outdated documents and loose paperclips and last year's calendars.

No wonder we can't get any work done. An untidy office indicates a disorganized mind. And a mess eats up man-hours. How can we concentrate on setting priorities and accomplishing great things when we spend all of our time searching for lost invoices?

Extending the spring-cleaning frenzy to the home office means sorting through folders and emptying file cabinets and throwing out mountains of paper. It can be a daunting job if approached in your usual helter-skelter manner. That's how you got into this mess to start with.
To do spring cleaning in an organized way, break your office down into its component parts, then clean each one. Tackle them in this order:


The most important part of any home office, the desk often takes on the attributes of a landfill. Optimally, the top of your desk should hold only a computer, a phone and your calendar. Maybe a folder containing your current assignment and a cup full of pens that don't work. But that's it. Everything else on your desktop should be considered a distraction.

Spring cleaning is a good time to rid your desk of toys and stray garments and "Dilbert" cartoons. Strip it down to the bare essentials. All the folders and papers and Post-It reminders that currently litter your desk should be carefully filed away.

Desk drawers also should be cleaned. Empty them, vacuum out the dust and grime and fingernail clippings, then refile everything in an orderly fashion.


Just as the automatic dishwasher mostly is a cabinet for hiding dirty dishes, file drawers are repositories for unfinished projects, out-of-date memos, gizmos that don't work anymore and other disappointments. A thorough cleaning requires that you go through each drawer, throwing out non-essentials and reorganizing what remains. Here's a good rule-of-thumb: If you haven't used an item for a year, it's probably safe to move it to a "dead" file. If you can't remember what the item was for to begin with, it should be discarded. If you're undecided, err toward elimination. When in doubt, throw it out.

When you're finished, you'll be amazed by how much space you suddenly have in your file cabinets. They'll become functioning work spaces rather than tombs full of disorganized data. They'll be helpful to you, rather than a source of secret guilt. And, they'll be ready to collect a whole new year's worth of office detritus.


Don't overlook a "virtual" cleanup while you're at it. Spring is a good time to scan your hard drive for errors, defragment your disk and analyze your data files for items that can be erased, such as distracting space-alien games. Go into your browser and eliminate "cookies" and unused bookmarks and virus alerts and stale jokes.

You want to give your computer a complete physical. You want to make it turn its head and cough. When you're done, you'll find that the computer runs faster and crashes less often. You'll also find that you've erased important projects, but sacrifices must be made in the name of tidiness.

Sure, cleaning your home office is a big job, but it's one filled with its own rewards. When you're done, you'll feel organized, competent, ready to work. And you'll know exactly what became of those lost invoices -- they'll be in the trash with the rest of your important paperwork.

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