A clear desk

I once saw the quote “a clear desk is the sign of a twisted mind”, and others have said that it’s the sign of a tidy mind.  But the whole subject was woken in my mind by a blog I read yesterday: Happy Clean Off Your Desk Day.

I can honestly say that the only paper on my desk is a scratch pad and a tear-off calendar.  There are no memos, no reports, no expense receipts – and I don’t feel the need for my desk to be cluttered in that way.  But rather than rest on my laurels I’d like to share the steps I have taken to get to this point:

  • if a document exists electronically then I only want the electronic version – and pretty much everyone I work with has learned that this is my way of working;
  • if I have to have a piece of paper then I’ll either make it electronic (scan it) or file it and add a note to the relevant file or to-do list;
  • expense receipts are recorded on a spreadsheet and filed as soon as possible after I incur the expense, and they sit in my laptop case (following my filing ethos); and
  • finally, there are a few things which I need to refer to regularly, and these (very few) documents, along with my current meetings notebook, live in my laptop case.

Overall, it’s not difficult but it is a step-change for some people.  It just requires a step-change in attitude, and a very determined effort at filing (electronic or otherwise).  I can’t be that different to everyone else in terms of how many reports and documents come my way, so what will you do to create a clear desk?

Out with the old …

Like many people, I have a tendency to hang onto things “just in case”.  I’ve also got something akin to a “man drawer” – a quick look in there today reveals techie gadgets as well as padlocks and a few bits of string.  However, the drawer has tended to overflow, and the things I’ve kept in case they’re useful one day take up too much space.  So once a year (or maybe every couple of years) I make a big effort to rationalise my study.

An annual, or semi-annual, clearout is a pretty daunting task, but the dead time between Christmas and the New Year needs to be filled with something practical, something other than going to work or, worse, braving the crowds and hitting the sales.  (For the benefit of those from the USA, imagine the “Black Friday” shopping experience.)  We make New Year’s resolutions, plans to do something different, and so an effort to de-clutter the environment makes sense.

As would be expected, I found some things which I had thought were lost.  Amusingly, I picture of old mobile phonesalso found some old mobile phones and it interested me to see the genesis of the smartphone: where once miniaturisation was the goal, now the phones have grown again.  (The phones go back to about 1999 – the Nokia 6310 [top left] was featured in Charlie’s Angels, released in 2000. There are also some missing – notably iPhone iterations – where I’ve recycled for cash!)

I did throw away quite a lot (four large rubbish sacks), and I shredded a vast amount of paper.  And of the papers that I needed to keep, I scanned most and securely filed them (with a backup in the cloud) – then they too were shredded.

The clearout was a jolly cathartic experience and I recommend it wholeheartedly.  The trick now, of course, is keeping it this way!

I have a feeling, though, that I’ve been here before … so who has some handy tips?

Technology and paper

I am surrounded by technology.  My iPhone is more powerful than my first computer (and probably the next couple after that!), and the silent efficiency of broadband makes the whistles and boings of modems seem to belong to a bygone age.  And yet, I am still hanging onto mountains of paper in much the same way as I did before.

Why am I doing this? The credit card statements are all available online, as are my utility bills, tv licence and insurance certificates.  I have written four cheques in three years and yet I have diligently kept cheque book stubs from yesteryear.  It’s not that I don’t trust technology, but perhaps it is the nagging paranoia that a single failure could wipe out my entire filing system (even though I have a very effective backup regime).

Technology and trust must hold the key to the future, so I’m going to try an experiment for the next two weeks and see what happens:

  • I will shred all credit card and utility bills once they have been paid – copies exist online if I should need them.
  • if I receive something which I will need to keep or later reference then I will scan it and file it electronically, probably in the cloud where it will be backed up for me – and available on my laptop, my phone, or pretty much anywhere.  Once scanned I will shred the original.
  • I will keep any official documents which I will need to use later – driving licence, vehicle registration and so forth.

I’m sure other people do this all the time.  Will it – and I – be successful?