Did you know that your office serves as a mirror of your life?
Your office reflects back to you your roles. You can actually derive a person’s job description from the trail of stuff that lands in their office! The paper, to-dos, and items found in your office are clues to your various roles (which may or may not be reflected in your official job description!) Stepping into your office is stepping into a treasure trove of clues about your work and your habits.
I recently had the privilege of stepping into the office of Teri Black – co-host of the television show Real Life on Cornerstone Network in Pittsburgh, PA.
I put on my detective hat and began searching for clues. The piles of paper, multiple “inboxes”, and overburdened bulletin boards in Teri’s office were not “just” clutter. They were clues!
Here is what I discovered in my treasure hunt of Teri’s office:
- Teri loves providing hospitality on behalf of the network, writing responses and notes to partners
- Many of the tasks Teri does are recurring, meaning she does the same thing over and over
- Teri is the event coordinator for the network, evidenced by everything from first aid kits to memorabilia landing in her office
- Though her piles were mostly grouped together by type, each pile seemed urgent to her – indicating the need for better workflow
These discoveries lead me to set up a “3 Ps” organizing system on Teri’s desk. The 3 P’s Teri needed were: Processing, Projects, and Perpetual.
Watch as I explain how I used the 3 P’s in Teri’s Office:
Teri’s multiple urgent projects (her self-identified “have to” and “have to, have to” piles) were clues that she needed a streamlined processing system for actionable items with quick turnover. We set up trays on her desk with action phrases such as “to call,” “to read,” and “to file.” Now her “hot” incoming paper can be queued for action instead of getting layered in piles. This new system helped reclaim workspace on Teri’s desk.
I noticed that Teri had cubbies dedicated to different projects she was working on. From travel magazines, to information about past trips, the relevant paperwork was grouped together in a stack. Teri knew where to find things, but this system left Teri’s office feeling cluttered.
In these piles were both reference paper and the current work paper. In other words, each pile represented an historical (and growing) mound of everything related to that project.
For ease of access, it’s useful to separate past and current paper.
- In-process current projects should live “above ground”, in a place where they can be seen and easily accessed.
- Materials from past projects that need to be kept for reference, but that aren’t frequently needed, should live “below ground” in a drawer filing cabinet.
I worked with Teri to determine which of the “project paper” was current and which was old/reference.
- For the current paper, we created working files for each project and they live in vertical stadium-style file holders on the desktop (with clear names on the labels).
- Paper that will only be referenced occasionally was filed in Teri’s filing cabinets.
I also discovered that many of Teri’s tasks are recurring, which is true for most of us.
In her role as partner development (fundraising), she plans events, trips, coordinates giving, and other tasks repeatedly.
It was obvious that Teri would benefit from streamlined systems for her recurring responsibilities. So, we got to work:
- We created a “cheat sheet” binder for the reference information that Teri accesses over and over.
- We also streamlined a trip binder with labeled tabs and a table of contents that she can use every time she plans and executes similar trips.
After a little sleuthing, I realized Teri was tacking too many kinds of things to her bulletin board.
This is a common problem our Order Restorers find in offices across America! Too many kinds of items get layered and lost and what used to be a visual reminder becomes an overlooked eyesore. Bulletin boards can be a great tool, but they usually suffer from an organizing mistake I like to call “bulletin board abuse”! (Read more about how to avoid that mistake here.)
Teri’s once organized color-coded planning system was no longer current and needed revamping. (When we outgrow an outdated system, we need to eliminate it from our space, or it becomes “deadwood.”) Also, she had tacked a bunch of memorabilia from events and trips onto the board. So, it was a cluttered compilation.
I simply borrowed a second bulletin board from elsewhere in the building, and “themed” two boards for her: one for a simple, visual planning system, and one for inspirational memorabilia.
We discovered that one of Teri’s unique roles in the office is hospitality.
The clues in her office helped us realize what an important part of her job and gifting this is! By understanding how important this role is to Teri, we could designate prime real estate on her desk to empower that role. Now her notecards (that she uses to make people feel cared for) are within reach and all in one place.
Based on her love of gathering people, parties, and creating a hospitable culture, I felt it was important to return the favor to Teri and bring those values to her office. So, I added some finishing touches:
- I brought in a cheerful floral pillow for her chair
- I arranged her existing art pieces in a “gallery wall” behind her desk
- I hung a spring party-ish banner up to top everything off
Teri was thrilled with everything we were able to accomplish in her workspace. My aim was to empower her with clarified and streamlined systems that would enable her to be even more effective reclaiming and optimizing her contribution to the world.
Watch the office makeover segment aired on Real Life below: