4 Steps to Get Organized in 15 Minutes

It’s a familiar movie scene: A successful magazine editor — or sometimes she’s a creative director at an advertising agency — floats into the office, an assistant hands her a latte, and she sits at her spotless, midcentury-modern desk.

She has none of the sticky notes, stapled receipts, soccer pictures, inboxes, outboxes, notebooks, reports, cords, tchotchkes or empty coffee cups that we all have.

And research shows she’s got the right idea.

According to Jennie Dede, head of customer success at LinkedIn, an employee’s performance goes hand-in-hand with his or her workspace. When it’s organized, he or she is more motivated to work.

So, we all agree that cleaner is better. But how does one get there? Follow these steps, for starters.

Start small. If your desk, files, laptop and mind are cluttered, don’t try to tackle it all at once. Choose one thing that you can clean up in 15 minutes. Maybe it’s your email inbox, the loose papers on your desk or the open tabs in your web browser. Don’t think about anything else that’s messy in your life; just set a timer and clean one thing for 15 minutes.

Make it part of your daily routine. Once you’ve started the ball rolling on day one, make it a habit. Things that are on your calendar are more likely to get done, so instead of using your calendar for meetings and deadlines only, build in a little time for getting organized. It can be your last 15 minutes of the day, the first 15 minutes in the morning or somewhere in between. Make a calendar invite or set a reminder on your phone, and simply work on organizing for 15 minutes. When the timer dings, give yourself permission to just stop and pick it up tomorrow. (The 15-minute timer works great for cleaning projects at home, too.)

Prioritize. It can be easy to spend a lot of time on the wrong things. For example, you could get stuck reformatting a bunch of last year’s Excel sheets that no one ever will see, or you could spend that time organizing something that everyone will see. Look with fresh eyes at your office or desk. Is your collection of vendor swag piling up? Are there stickers all over your laptop? Imagine what your boss or co-workers would point out as your biggest messy area, and start there. Chip away at that project using your 15-minute bursts until it’s done.

Keep your inbox clean. It may seem like a little thing, but believe me, your inbox deserves its own bullet point. There are different methods for keeping your inbox organized — clear it to zero at the end of the day, create smartboxes that sort your email — but choose one and stick with it. If cleaning your inbox seems like an overwhelming task, think of it as its own project and start at step one: Start small, make it part of your daily routine and prioritize.

You also might consider unsubscribing from every marketing email, daily digest and product update email that you get: every single one. If the information they contain is valuable to you, seek it out on the company’s website.

After about three weeks, your new organizational practices will become a habit, and you’ll be able to work through these steps on autopilot. But the first, most important step to becoming organized is to want to be organized. So, when you look around and yearn for a cleaner life, do something about it. Take 15 minutes, and just start.

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