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The Truth About Your Messy Office

01/12/21 | Dana LaRieal Morales

And How it is Saying More than You Think

It’s that time of year when Managers and Directors all over the world are conducting reviews of their employees. They are letting you know what they liked about your work product and your personality and what they didn’t like.  

One question that inevitably shows up on evaluations is “Do they keep a clean and tidy work-space” or something to that extent. Many people overlook the importance of this question in their day-to-day job because let’s face it if I’m getting the job done why does it matter what my workspace looks like? 

Is Your Disorganization Affecting Your Office Relationships?

Many many years ago, I went for a job interview and upon approaching this Attorney's office I was met with an office I could barely enter. I literally had to turn sideways to enter the office and even in doing so was scared I would knock over the stack of papers that was teetering on the Attorney's desk corner.

Although my interviewer at the time seemed to be extremely nice, I could barely focus on the words coming out of her mouth because I was processing all of the things I saw in the environment I was in. Now granted I was processing the items thinking if hired how I could organize the space, but most people wouldn't be doing that. More than likely they would be sitting stiffly wondering when they could get out of there!  

Ultimately, I was hired to assist this individual and within a week her office was neat and tidy to the point that other Attorneys were taking field trips to see her space. Apparently, she was notorious for having a messy office.  

She later confided in me that she hired me mainly because I didn't balk at the state of her space. I shared with her I didn't balk because I knew if hired it wouldn't stay that way. The beauty is that the change we made in her environment also changed the way Attorneys interacted with her. They began coming by her office instead of just calling or emailing her when they worked together.  

The point that I'm trying to make here is that it does matter what your space looks like, because it tends to affect your office relationships. No, I’m not talking about romantic relationships…I’m talking about your interpersonal relationships with your co-workers. So imagine for just a minute, I need to discuss an issue with you.  

Your office is always a mess to the point of needing a path to find a seat. Do you have to remove papers from my line of sight to see you or from the chair itself so I can sit down? How welcoming do you think that makes me feel? How much time do you think I am going to spend with you truly troubleshooting the issue at hand?  

I can answer that without hesitation, very little.  

I will avoid your office like the plague because it’s more than just the uncomfortable feeling I get when I am in your space. I feel claustrophobic and that something could topple over with even a slight miscalculation in my step. My breathing may become a little irregular because I'm going to breathe as little as possible while in your office because I fear what I might smell if I inhale too deeply.

Is There More To Your Messy Office?

You see, a lot of times when a person’s office/space is cluttered there are also other health risks that sneak up on you. You can’t correctly clean the space because there is too much stuff and the cleaning staff isn’t going to move it because that is a liability.  

How about that abandoned cup of coffee or food fragment from last week that inadvertently got pushed up against the wall behind the latest stack of papers. Got Mold?  

Yes, you think I exaggerate, but sadly I do not. In my time working in office spaces I have experienced and seen a lot.  

Another risk of having a messy office is that you often will misplace important documents (think original signatures and contracts) or missed deadlines, which ultimately can cost you a lot in the end.  

Of the people that are notoriously late or ill-prepared what state is their office in?

Your Organization Action Plan

​So, this year, I encourage you to spend a little time cleaning your space. Remove the clutter that is not serving a purpose in your day-to-day work life. Create systems that allow you to easily find what you need when you need it. 

If you are an out of sight out of mind type of person, create a system that allows you to keep out what you are currently working on (meaning that day or week) and putting up the things you are not.  This can easily be done by reviewing your tasks for the next day and retrieving those items before you leave for the day. 

This achieves two things: 

(1) you know before you come in what you need to work on; and 

(2) you put away anything you don’t immediately need the next day.  

When selecting what you "need" make sure you are only getting out what you truly "need" to do the work you are doing, and not keeping the five redwell files out just because they are associated with the Client's file. 

Create what I like to call a working file which is essentially a file folder or redwell (expandable for those outside the legal community) which keeps the current items for that Client accessible and the rest stay in your filing cabinet for access if needed.  

Also, don't be afraid to go paperless for items that are no longer needed on a regular basis. If the Client is archived, scan the hard-copy papers and shred the originals (unless they contain an original signature or have to be maintained for legal purposes). If scanning the files, create a mirror of your hard-copy files in electronic form, so you always know where to look when trying to locate something. 

Ultimately, create your process around the rules you set for your office.  For the Attorney I told you about earlier, the rule we established was that I maintained all of her non-active files. She only kept active files in her office filing cabinet, and the only files that stayed out on her desk were active that week. She had a bin where she placed paper that needed to be filed back in the Client files and I handled that for her. All of her electronic files mirrored her hard-copy files and had a specific naming convention that made locating things easier. 

Addressing your Tchotchkes

Another area that you need to focus on is all the tchotchkes you have laying around. Do you need ten mugs from your Clients? Or all those photos on your tabletops? It's okay to have nice decor in your office but when it starts to become a distraction or take up valuable real estate in your space you should rethink it.  

A rule of thumb I use with clients is that they should keep their immediate work zone clear of tchotchkes and only place these items above and on the outskirts of their work zone. This allows you to see them when you are taking a visual break to stretch your eyes, but they aren't distracting you when you are working.

To identify your work zone, sit facing forward anything in your immediate line of sight without moving your head up or down is part of your work zone. Now swivel your head to the left and right. What you see when you do this is also included in your work zone.

So ultimately, cleaning and organizing your office space is vitally important and it affects many things in your life. Once you go through this organizing process your office will be void of the mountains of paper that aren’t really helpful or needed any longer. Guests will feel welcomed into your space and you can take a breath because when you face the facts you know that your DIY Fort O’ Paper was just stressing you out anyway.  

I encourage you to continue to work on removing the clutter from your life in the coming year. Take it one day at a time. You will begin to see the positive changes to both your work product and your life.  


Dana is a Holistic Organizer, Certified Project Manager and Life Coach in Nashville, TN who works primarily with side-hustlers and solopreneurs to improve their work-life balance with organization and process.  Connect for more organizing tips related to space, life, soul and business.