Claudia Newell

The truth is, most of us could use a little help in getting our s**t together.

How else to explain the growing popularity of TV shows like How Clean is Your House? and Clean Sweep, and the increasing numbers of professional organizers in the Yellow Pages? Here’s what the pros have to say about how to get your work life in order. Your desk According to Sherry Borsheim, organizing guru at Simply Productive, your desk is not a storage area; it’s a “command centre.” That means what you don’t need at your fingertips shouldn’t be ¬sitting on it. Rowena List, professional organizer and president of Getting it Together, recommends having only the basics on hand: your telephone, computer, in and out trays and whatever you’re ¬currently working on. “People have a ¬tendency to just pile things,” List observes. “They need a system: deal with it, dump it or delegate it.” Your files Organizing pro Linda Chu, from Out of Chaos, recommends prioritizing material in three categories: active, reference or archive. Any time something comes across your desk, she advises, immediately figure out whether it needs immediate attention, should be kept on hand for reference or can be archived. “People think, ‘I’ll leave it on my desk and deal with it later,’” Chu observes, “but later never happens.” When something is no longer active, move it over into reference or archive – or chuck it. Says Chu: “As soon as you get something in your hand and think, ‘I should...’ ask yourself, ‘When?’ and make a decision.” Contacts Here’s a novel thought: instead of keeping a stack of business cards held together with a rubber band, enter important contacts into your database. At networking events, says Chu, “you can be ruthless. Have an A list and B list in different pockets.” At the end of the night, toss the B list and enter the A list into your database as soon as possible. And be sure to use some key words to describe the contact that will jog your memory when you need to look them up. Master your email This may come as a revelation to some, but your inbox is not a storage area. “It’s no different than the mail slot in your front door,” insists Chu. “Would you just let that mail collect at the foot of your door?” Create a set of folders within your inbox, according to the type of mail that you receive – correspondence related to committees, monthly e-zines, projects, etc. Chu also recommends using “flags” (if you’re using Outlook) to label which emails you need to follow up on and set pop-up reminders. Appointments The key, stresses List, is to use just one source for keeping track of appointments. “I see people that have a Palm and paper and stuff on a computer, and then they miss appointments because they have stuff all over the place.” Chu recommends clustering appointments together when scheduling appointments. “Hold them back to back as much as possible, and if you can, meet them all at the same place so they’re lined up one after the other.” But don’t overbook yourself. “You have to have some flex,” says Chu. “Crap happens, right?”