What in the world is this? Is this the most recent version of these policies? Do I really need to keep this? Office organization is one of the first tasks when taking a new position.

Cleaning up the mess

This summer, many teachers and administrators will undertake new positions. One of the first orders of business will be cleaning out and organizing the space left by the one who left the job. My experience has been that those on the way out are not nearly as conscientious about having everything neat and organized as the person coming in.

It’s in one of two categories

With office organization, anything you pick up will fall into one of two categories: 1) you need it; or 2) you don’t. You toss the junk and organize the treasure. The only problem is that in those early days in a new job, it’s hard to tell which is which. As a result, too many people hang onto it all and wonder why they can never find anything amid the clutter.

I held 5 different positions during my career in education, and in each case found myself asking questions about material I would run across. Time tends to answer those questions. The manual about which we have no clue today turns into the manual we will be looking for a week from now. We come across a box of keys and nobody has any idea what locks they fit. A month later, we encounter that locked storage room for which there seems to be no key, and find a match in that box of orphaned keys.

Setting up your “Bulk” area

My answer to sorting out the mystery was to establish a “bulk” area in my office. It was the one area where I could toss any questionable item until a better decision could be may about whether to keep it or trash it, and if the answer was “keep it,” exactly where to put it. The decisions are small ones, but they are decisions which must be made.

As a principal, I had a large storage closet in my office. One shelf was designated as the “bulk” shelf. Those large items whose purpose was unknown went there.

As a central office administrator, one cabinet in a built-in bookshelf served the purpose of holding those bulk items. During those first days in the new position, I filled my “bulk” cabinet to the brim. Having that one catch-all allowed the rest of the office to be pristine.  Little-by-little, I would chip away at the collection.

Checking “Bulk” becomes a repeating task

On my repeating task list, I added an item which simply said “Check Bulk,” and set it to repeat every week. Seeing that task on the list was my trigger to examine that special shelf or cabinet. With each passing week, I gained a better understanding of what was trash and what was treasure. Each week, the “bulk” area grew smaller as some items were discarded and others were organized in their proper places. Do you really want boxes sitting in a corner of your office?

The day the bulk area was totally clear was a major step forward. It was a sign that there was “a place for everything and everything in its place,” as Benjamin Franklin said. It was also a sign that the junk was gone and not taking up valuable real estate in an office or classroom.

After the clean-up is over

Office organization takes planning, and with a good plan, the clutter doesn’t last long. Once that clutter is gone, that bulk area takes on a new and useful purpose: A microscope needs repair and you plan to deliver it to the proper person on Friday. Where do you put it from now until that time? You have a box of books to donate to charity and plan to take them on Tuesday of next week. What happens to that box of books until then? A new box of books arrives. What do you do with it until the books are distributed to the proper place?

For each of these examples, a designated spot for bulk items needing some type of attention provides an answer. To make this bulk holding area work, two factors must be in place:

  1. The designated shelf or cabinet can only be used for bulk items needing some type of action. Do not let that spot also accommodate items which are to be stored there permanently. If used properly, that bulk storage spot will spend the majority of its time empty.
  2. Some trigger must be present which sends you to that bulk storage spot. Putting a reminder on the to-do list for the appropriate day to deliver the books, take the microscope for repair, delivery the books to charity, or unbox the newly-arrived set of books will prevent those bulk items from being forgotten.

Would a “Bulk” area help you?

You may be new to the position or simply want to turn over a new leaf and move from a state of chaos to the freedom of order. In either case, creating a system which provides a place for every item is a tremendous first step. You will have an environment free of clutter. You will be able to put your hands on anything without the need to “hunt.” The time invested in creating the system translates into time saved each and every day.