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Conquer Your Desk Before It Conquers You

Take a look at your desk right now. Is it covered with stacks of paper you can hide behind? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time every day searching for lost or misfiled papers, all the while insisting that you know exactly where everything is? Is the only way your staff can be certain an important paper comes to your attention to put it on the seat of your chair?

A messy desk creates the impression of a disorganized, undisciplined person. When a prospect sees that you can't even manage your desk, why would he or she trust you to manage his money?

Luckily, the principles of paper management are easy. All you need is the discipline to put them into practice.

Principle #1: There are only four things you can do with a piece of paper.

You can act on it.
You can refer it to someone else.
You can file it.
You can toss it.

And a corollary: when in doubt, toss it.

Principle #2: Never, ever handle a piece of paper more than once, without deciding which of the four possible things you're doing with it. Study after study has shown that nothing makes for a cluttered desk more than picking up a piece of paper and putting it down again. In the end stage, you're simply shuffling paper from one pile to another. Don't let that happen to you. Decide which if the four alternatives above applies to the piece of paper in front of you and do it.

Principle #3: The only paper on your desk should relate directly to the one project you are working on at the time. Work on only one project at a time. Yes, you have many different things that have to get done during the day. Do them one at a time. If you need to turn aside from one to attend to another, put the first project aside. Otherwise you'll divide your attention and risk not only confusion but actual mingling of papers. The same is true of computer files as of hard copy. Keep only one document on your screen--the one you're working on.

These three principles, rigorously applied, can make the difference between a messy desk that is a hindrance to your work and a blot on your image, and a clear desk that helps you function effectively.

James Cappio is a writer, corporate communicator, editor, and teacher based in Toronto. To learn more about how he can help you deliver messages crafted to get the results you want, e-mail him at cappio@mindspring.com or visit his web site, Copy Writer in Toronto.

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