• Marina Harte

Where's your desk?

One of my first office jobs was as a personal assistant in a real estate firm. The stark depersonalised emptiness of my desk was complemented by the 90s pen holder containing the remnants of old staples, one blue pen and a rusty bulldog clip. It was uninspiring, to say the least. I shared my space with the person I was meant to be assisting. In contrast, I don’t believe he had a desk, just a floating pile of recycling and a computer monitor.

He asked me to sort the paperwork out and tidy it up before tidying was a cool thing to do. One early morning, all caution strewn aside, I dragged the yellow curbside recycle bin into the cubicle, much to the surprise of the mature-minded receptionist. Save, file, throw. Save, file, throw.

It was done.

The sales meeting was concluded by the ceremonial congregation around the coffee machine. As the door opened, my boss continued a jovial conversation with a colleague. He looked up but stopped dead in the entryway. The inertia of the sudden movement caused a hot jolt in his coffee cup. His eyes surveyed the space. In fact, he was no longer alone in the doorway.

The art of being subtle has never been my strength but organising people and places were. While the initial shock of an organised space felt like a negative response, the overall effect was a positive one. Having a tidy office meant that we were more effective at dealing with work. Tidying up is a process beyond the daily straightening of personal effects but rather an act of discarding and sorting.

This is particularly important in a collaborative space, such as an office. If there is someone that has access to a space, other than the person to whom the space is intended, then a good level of order and cleanliness is non-negotiable. This includes the office assistant that may need to retrieve a phone number from someone’s desk or computer. Below I have included a non-exhaustive list of aspects that one may want to consider when embarking on a tidying journey.

Do away with the paper

When I was involved in real estate, the paper trail was something else. An email was not an approved way of transferring legal documents. This meant that all forms had to be kept, printed, signed and filed. Many industries have scrapped this paper mentality. Documents can be signed online and kept in the cloud securely. Seldom do large manual style documents get read physically. They get shoved inside a large folder and forgotten indefinitely. There are many online ways to get your documents viewed at the right time by the right people, without having them take up space. You can also update them with ease and can ensure and monitor that the updates get read.


Using a business management software that allows you to communicate with clients in a way that all communication is recorded is vital in avoiding miscommunication errors and forgetting to call someone back. While business cards haven’t quite died out yet, collecting them often results in an out-of-sight out of mind mentality. Process your business networking by making an actual connection via adding this person into your phone, communication software or professional social channels such as Linkedin.

Change your perspective

If a client were to walk into your office what would they think? I find this question extremely helpful. Another way of seeing your space is to consider what your perceptions would be of your dentist, GP or real estate agent if you knew the true state of their space. Would it change anything for you if you walked into the doctor's office and found it strewn with paper? My perception of that scenario is that I would get lost in that giant pile.


Some offices have sticky notes with the login to their computer, Facebook and taxation records stuck on to their computer monitor. This poses various risks to the business, its employees as well as customers and contractors. Various digital applications offer ways to securely store passwords. Another risky aspect is printing sensitive documents and leaving them in a recycling pile unshredded. Avoiding printing these documents avoids paper waste and ensures that the document is viewed only by the person to whom it is intended.

Paper Clutter killers

  • Notes - Google Docs, Word, Notes

  • Legal Documents - Dochub, your CRM, other industry-specific apps

  • Business Cards - phone, CRM, Social Media, Professional Social Media

  • Advertising - Consider an online strategy to save on printing costs and storage costs

  • Stationary - Your keyboard

  • Client information - email, CRM, newsletters, social media groups

  • Sticky notes - Virtual sticky notes on your desktop

  • Accounting - Xero, MYOB

  • Photos - Google Photos (the functionality of face recognition is truly astonishing)

  • Reminders - Calendar, digital reminders

  • Magazines - online versions

  • Books - e-books, Audible, Scribd

  • Bills - Online and send straight to your accounting package