Organized filesIs your desk and workspace tidy? Some believe a messy desk shows creativity, others that it’s a sign of an equally disheveled mind. At a meeting of my local freelancer group (HPCA) last week, we learned that it’s okay to be a little untidy, but it’s perhaps not as hard as we think to be more organized.

Blanka Smetana, a Trained Professional Organizer who runs Office Evolution, is so together, apparently even her freezer is organized. While advising the group not to over-organize (“You just need to simplify”), she shared four tips to be more organized:

  1. Organize your desk
    Are you right- or left-handed? Left-brained (logical) or right-brained (creative)? Use that as a starting point to help you decide where to put things on your desk. Corral the clutter in drawers by grouping like objects, such as pens and pencils. Are you the kind of person for whom out of sight is out of mind? Keep projects in a hanging file on the desk. Make sure to use shelves and wall space, such as by clipping projects to a series of clipboards pinned to the wall.
  2. Use effective labels
    Group receipts and other papers in a way that helps you find what you need. “Taxes – 2013” might have sub-folders with “Receipts – 2013” and “HST – 2013.” Use hanging files, with tabs aligned on one side; alternating sides will quickly get messy. Mirror these folders as you add new ones, keeping two years together.
  3. Manage tasks
    I’m guilty of writing tasks on my “to do” list that are so big, it takes me days to cross them off. Instead, I should break complex tasks into smaller, more achievable steps that I can more easily cross off. It helps to assign each task a due date and a level of importance. Delete tasks that are no longer relevant. Pay attention to how you were able to complete a task. Was it morning or afternoon? At home or in a coffee shop?
  4. Manage email
    Don’t pressure yourself to achieve “in-box zero,” but do be brutal about deleting mail. Use folders to organize your mail. Use your email provider’s “rules” to automatically move non-urgent mail (LinkedIn updates, discussion board comments, newsletters) from your in-box to folders to be read or dealt with later. If you can deal with an email in two minutes, do it: file it, forward it, delete it or process it. Otherwise, put it on your “to do” list and set a time to tackle it. Go through deleted mail once a month and trash anything older than one year. Remember you can always use the “search” function.

If all else fails, Blanka suggesting inviting a client to your office. “Nothing will get you organized like knowing a client is on the way!” she said.

Do you keep a tidy desk? How do you do it? Share your tips in the comments below, or come right out and admit that you have work to do yourself. I’d show you a photo of my own desk if it wasn’t so messy. Instead, go to Pinterest and search for “organized desk” for some inspirational shots.

Image: Organized folders by Stuart Miles,