In their new book, The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals, organizers Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin give specific, “even I could do that” tips to help you control the chaos in your life. Their fans are legion: Mandy Moore, Khloe Kardashian, Eva Chen, and Busy Philipps have all gotten the Home Edit treatment in their pantries or closets. And they are currently developing a new, unscripted Netflix show, produced by Reese Witherspoon, in which they bring order to chaotic homes around the nation. So naturally, we couldn’t resist asking Shearer and Teplin a few questions about how to stay more organized at work, whether that means keeping a tidy shared desk or finally getting to inbox zero.
Q: Why is it so important to have a well-organized workspace?
A: For starters, it helps productivity. You’re able to get more work done when you don’t have to search under a mountain of papers for the stapler. An organized space can also help manage your stress level. Rule of thumb: If your mind begins to feel as cluttered as your desk looks, it’s time to create a system. By doing this, many people have said their lives became easier, even out of the office.
Q: Where do most people tend to get the messiest at work?
A: The desktop, because it’s a flat surface that accumulates clutter. That’s why it’s so important that every item has a home and systems are in place.
Q: What’s a good way to organize papers?
A: Start by compiling all of your papers in one place, and begin sorting them into categories: Action, File, Recycle, and Shred. Immediately take care of the last two categories—that’s the easy part. For the Action items, place them in a tray on your desk, or file them in a binder that can be easily accessed. For things you need to File, archive them by category in a standing file system or document boxes, or scan them and store in Dropbox or on your computer.
Q: What’s the most valuable organizing item you can buy for your desk?
A: A filing system; specifically, one that fits your needs. Whether you prefer a traditional filing system, document boxes, or designated trays, all that matters is that documents are easily accessible when you need them and that every category is visible and contained. [Ed note: They love these three from the Container Store: Acrylic Desktop File, Bigso White Stockholm Office Storage Boxes, and Bigso Black Woodgrain File Box and Legal-Size Folders Solution.]
Q: What’s your favorite way to mark important tasks in a notebook—color coding? A lettering system?
A: A labeling system isn’t one-size-fits-all, so it honestly depends on what works for you and the tasks at hand. Using tabs to identify categories, whether it’s color-coded or written out, allows you to quickly access things and stay organized.
Q: How should you organize your inbox so that you never miss a follow-up?
A: Start by purging anything you no longer need and unsubscribing to any newsletter or promotional content that is clogging up your inbox. Then set up folders for your general categories (Work, Family, Travel, Etc.) and use filters so that emails go straight to the inbox they belong in. From there, you can also prioritize these emails into categories that signal action such as Reply or Waiting For Reply so that you don’t miss anything.
Q: What’s the best way to organize your work bag so that you have everything you need?
A: An organized work bag is just as important as an organized desk, as it also helps productivity. Whenever possible, it should carry only the essentials that you need with you during the day, so rethink what you carry on a regular basis, because it’s not just obvious junk that causes the clutter. Thanks to technological advances like Apple Pay and digital wallets, we’re now able to leave certain things at home or forget about them altogether. So take advantage of that!
Loose items like medicines, cosmetics, pens, etc. can easily get lost in the mix. Using clear or color-coded pouches to contain these items allows you to grab the category you need without having to dig within a dark bag. It also helps if you label them.
If you’re like us, you’ll never leave the house without a phone charger and a pair of earbuds. The issue is how easily the cords turn into a tangled mess, especially in a small space. To avoid this, use a cord wrap or carrying case and store them in a separate pouch or compartment.
Utilizing a removable bag organizer is a way to customize the pockets you need, add structure to a floppy bag, and switch to a new bag without losing your system.
Q: Real talk: What’s the best way to get an unorganized coworker to follow your organizing system?
A: If your coworkers don’t know why you created an organizing system in the first place, then they will be less likely to help with upkeep. The great thing about being organized is that it actually makes life and your workday more productive and easier to manage. When you explain it in a way that will benefit them, they will likely be on board.
Julie Vadnal is a writer and founder of the newsletter JULES. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Elle, Esquire, Glamour, and Real Simple. Follow her on Instagram at @julievadnal.