Spring Clean Your Way to Career Success: 12 Orderly Office Tips

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: December 22, 2011

Your bedroom closet redo might have happened during a last-minute quest for clothing donations at tax time. But now it's easier to get dressed for work and less likely that you will grab the navy blue jacket to wear with your black pants.

Hold that thought. Mull it over as you sip your coffee, chiding the driving faux pas of your fellow commuters. Could this spring cleaning moment have other applications? What if you were to clean and organize your workspace? 

Here are some de-clutter tips that might just get you promoted. Or at least help you find your daily planner.


Do a drive by

Check it out for curb appeal. Your office. Your Home Sweet Home away from home. Does it confidently say, "A professional accomplishes things in this space"? Or does it scream "Call security! Somebody ransacked Kerry's cubicle again!" 

Take the time to evaluate what has changed and what needs to change. Did you get a little sloppy with your filing? Is "Wash me" finger-scrawled across your monitor? 

Take a few minutes now to impact your efficiency in the months ahead. Of course you don't have time for this. Do it anyway.

Get rid of the weeds

When Jan mentioned a life-changing book, you were open. It was a Thursday and you had no plans for the weekend. But shortly after she hefted "Essential Redundancies"> onto your desk, denting a completely innocent pencil, the Jennings project took off and you rediscovered a passion for pottery. You skimmed. You yawned. You nudged it aside. And now it mocks your good intentions from a time-out corner on your desk.

Time's up. Return the book and its similarly borrowed brethren with a polite "Thank you." Suggest she give the book to Jim who keeps draining the coffee pot and never chips in for bagels.

Be a pen pal

Click, scribble, drop. Click, scribble, scribble again, and again... drop. 

Giving a person the benefit of the doubt is commendable. Giving an ink pen second, third and fourth chances to act like a pen and write is a waste of your time.

Take thirty seconds to see which pens work and which are lazy bums taking up valuable drawer space. Toss the latter. And while you're at it, scoop out the bent paper clips, loose staples and rubber bands. Much better!

Limited time offer

How likely are you to use that free one-time gym pass when you have a health club at your condo? And how likely is it that the gym would even accept a pass that expired a year ago? Who needs a buy one/get one ticket discount for last month's jazz concert? Or a takeout menu for the burger joint that made the Board of Health's critical violations list? 

Menus and offers. They accumulate, expire and clutter your bottom drawer while giving the illusion of value. Yes it's information. But it's outdated, unnecessary and probably available on-line. Pitch the "pitches."

Sweet sorrow

Similarly, get rid of that withering plant, the vacant aquarium and the deflated birthday balloon. The plant was a gift that required direct sun. The fish would have done better with more food and less algae. And birthdays are deflating enough anyway.

So say "Goodbye" to your green-thumb dreams and the former home of your former fish. And bid adieu to yet another birthday that has come and gone. You can't go back again. You might want to, but the cake was store-bought and not that great anyway.

Yoga stretching for pencils?

Are items you use most within easy reach? Or are you a lefty reaching for pens in a right-side desk drawer? Do seldom-used reference materials fill nearby shelves that would be better occupied by oft-needed client reports? Is your stapler worthy of desktop status or simply adding to the clutter?

Classify items by whether they are daily, weekly or seldomly used. Then visualize concentric rings radiating from your desk chair. Occasionally used items should land around the outer perimeter and retrieving frequently used items should not be a major source of cardio exercise.

Warning: Use only as intended

You won't find corporate legalese on the backside of your inbox, but seriously, is it functioning within itsintended use?

If your inbox is but a gatherer, collecting files and letters with only vague dreams of a timely shuffle to the outbox, why does it own such valuable desktop real estate? A shopping bag on your coat rack could fill the same function.

Does your corkboard display inspiration and this week's schedule? Or yellowed news clippings and a coupon for a free car wash? If a system isn't working, change it.

File me under smart idea

Remember that web design guy from the meet-and-greet last week? Sure you do. His business card is um... not pinned to the memo board. Notunderneath your desk blotter. And (go ahead, we can wait)... not under your desk.

Might be good to compile, file and utilize these great contacts you're gathering. Pick a system. Any system. Your email address book? A traditional card file? Or maybe a quick scan into your smart phone. But please pick one and update those new entries weekly. Oh. And pick up that piece of stale popcorn while you're down there crawling under your desk looking for new business.


Out of season

Retail showcases what's now and what's next. Well-dressed mannequins do not sport snow boots in June nor "Kiss the Cook" aprons in January. And jellybeans vanish from the markdown aisle to make room for Mother's Day gift mugs.

So what's with the wool scarf dangling on the coat rack and the hot cocoa packets wedged behind the stapler (didn't somebody also make a New Year's vow to cut back on sugary drinks)?

Your office should be current. As timely as your output... get it? Always aim for present and future tense.

Your other desktop

Do you really need three versions of the Stockton proposal? And how likely is it that you'll need to reference a PDF of your health insurance benefits from 2003?

With so much virtual space, it's tempting to keep it all, filling screen and memory like your burgeoning basement. Sure, you still have that track and field medal from regionals, but could you ever lay hands on it in time for the class reunion?

It's the same with your office computer. More is not always better. Sometimes it's just more. Get rid of duplicate and outdated files and bookmarks and organize all for optimal utility.

Wave the white envelope

Are you dominating your email or simply clicking and stuffing it into files and folders to keep the mess at a minimum? Yes, the volume can be ridiculous, but we checked and Pam really doeshave nothing better to do than send you repeated clarifications of the weekend business travel policy. Maybe it's time to revamp your email management. 

Use automatic filters, and label files in ways that make sense to you. Update contacts and folders to reflect relevant changes in communication.

If adding an 's' in front of the "Pam" folder name makes you feel better, we won't tell.

Cleanup kit

In lieu of a readily available strong breeze, a can of compressed gas should be part of your keep-it-clean kit. Keyboards attract particles that will linger like garlic in the break room. Blast them out as part of your spring clean fiesta. Depending on personal momentum and stress levels, one can will last for many months.

Your kit should also include screen wipes and a microfiber cloth for dusting. An occasional swipe of your desk chair arms, doorknob and phone with an antibacterial wipe will cut down on germ transmission. If you have the space, keep your kit at a weekly or seldom-used distance from your chair.

Take a spin

Doesn’t that feel great? Take a celebratory twirl in your office chair and spritz the air with a neutral air freshener.

Spring weather might be right out your window -- or a lunch-hour perk if you work in a cubicle maze. But a spring clean of your workspace puts the power of spring into your own hands.

Spring ahead with a spring clean

Refreshing and organizing your workspace is strategic pruning to invigorate your office output. Removing the excess allows you to better see and focus on what remains. 

Less clutter means less distractions and better job efficiency which means you might finish work in time to get some real spring cleaning done at home too!

Recommended Reading

  • File...Don't Pile: A proven filing system for personal and professional use 

  • Organize Your Office: Simple Routines for Managing Your Workspace 

  • Order from Chaos: A Six-Step Plan for Organizing Yourself, Your Office, and Your Life 

  • Unclutter Your Life in One Week 

  • Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What's Holding You Back 

  • Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life