“Be the ruler of your workspace, don’t let it rule you.”

These were the words of my very first boss, on my very first day of work in a real office. At the time, his advice meant making liberal use of the many different colors of Post-It noted in the supply closet, to serve as reminders for everything from upcoming meetings to coworkers’ birthdays.

But as connectivity has increased, the workspace has become a hybrid combination of cloud-based services, digital integration, and, lastly, the real-world office space itself.

Whether you’re looking to start off on the right foot at a new job or just want to revamp your personal organizational system that you’ve relied on for years, we’re here to guide you through some of the most practical and efficient ways to keep track of commitments, obligations, and important documents.

In just a few simple steps, you can turn that messy desk and cluttered computer into a streamlined command center, one that consistently reminds you of what’s most important.

Evernote

Many of us grew up with cork boards at home or at school, likely filled up with magazine photos, maybe an inspirational quote or two, and scraps of paper with nothing more than scribbled ideas on them. And there’s a good reason that the same basic concept of visualizing tasks, inspiration, and passing thoughts has continued on into the digital age.

The world-famous Evernote has taken that same basic idea and supercharged it. Offered both as a smartphone app and a desktop download, the Evernote system makes it easy to categorize information and stay on top of deadlines and a wide array of projects.

You can set reminders, collaborate with other members of your team, or even give yourself a roadmap for the months and years ahead.  

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And since you can sign in from any compatible device, from just about anywhere, Evernote lets you stay on top of your work even when you’re traveling or otherwise don’t have access to your hard drive. And here in the 21st century, that kind of accessibility can’t be overestimated.

Best of all, Evernote’s basic version is free to use, elevating it as one of the most cost-efficient ways to get all your proverbial ducks in a row.  

Good Old-Fashioned To-Do Lists

As history has taught us, many of the best ideas are also very simple ideas.

Keeping a master to-do list with your phone or with pen and paper is a great low-cost way to prioritize tasks and stay on track.

Apart from referring to these lists later, the act of writing or typing a task can actually subconsciously communicate to your brain that a particular task is important.

Saying a specific task out loud to yourself as you add it to the list can also trigger a sense of ownership over the work. But if you’re in a shared workspace, just be sure to let your coworkers know that there’s a method to the apparent madness.

Get Your Files Straight  

Intelligent file organization can very well be applied to physical files in those familiar manila folders, but for most of us it means taking another look at how we manage our computer desktops.

When working with a large company or organization, it’s a good idea to include a copy of every file on a shared hard drive or server. That way, it’s easy for the whole team to keep track of progress and access important documents without having to personally ask you for a copy.

Additionally, be sure to keep any personal files and photos out of your business accounts and away from company computers. It may seem difficult or frustrating at first, but keeping those worlds separate can prevent future headaches.

Once you have your system ironed out, be sure to make it last by funneling brand new files into their appropriate folders. Soon enough, naming and organizing files appropriately will become second nature.

Desk Organizers

This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but desk cubbies and compact organizers tend to go overlooked in favor of tidying our phones and computers.

And while keeping our devices tidy and efficient is key to boosting productivity, maintaining our physical workspaces, whether in the office or at home, can be crucial to letting our minds focus on the task at hand, not on trying to find a single month-old note in a cascading pile of papers.   

We have a special affinity for the Slatwall system, which allows for a modular and personalized approach to making sure that the desk itself stays clear for devices, idea pads, and, of course, a highly caffeinated beverage of your choice.

The Slatwall system. Image via Steelcase.

Even if you’re on a budget, a simple desk caddy from big-box retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond or Amazon will justify its purchase price again and again.

Make Purges Monthly

Beyond giving yourself a place to put all your most important items, the next and arguably more difficult step is to make a habit of clearing out the bits you don’t need.

Don’t wait for spring cleaning or a New Year’s resolution. Make purging unnecessary files, documents, and notes as monthly (or even a weekly) occurrence.

If you’re hesitant to delete or toss even the most menial files, make use of a simple archiving system, perhaps on a backup external hard drive or a physical filing cabinet where your past work will stay safe for years to come.

The organizational effects will be immediate, and you’ll also get to feel highly productive and proactive. What could be better?

You Do You

In the end, when it comes to organizing your professional life, the most important step is to find what works for you. It may be that you prefer certain methods over others. The only way to find out is to experiment, learning over time what works best for you and your work.

We hope that these tips will inspire you to tweak your own methods to help reduce stress and ultimately lead to a healthier work life.