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When clutter becomes junk

I walked into my study last weekend. Well actually, I didn't so much walk in as step in over various piles of accumulated junk.

OK, confession time. I’m going to let you in on a secret. One that I’m actually rather ashamed of.

I walked into my study last weekend. Well actually, I didn’t so much walk in as step gingerly in, around and over various piles of accumulated junk. I’ve been working out of town a fair amount lately, and I started renting an office in the centre of town, so my home office hasn’t been used as much as it used to. But now it’s got to the stage where I can’t use it, and something has to give.

Now what, you may ask, has this got to do with personal branding. Quite a lot as it happens. When I meet with clients, or prospective clients, I make a point of being immaculately turned out. I’ve always dressed as well as my income would allow, and lately that’s meant I can indulge myself with some very nice clothes indeed.

The idea is that my clothes both portray a certain level of success, which in turn suggests I am good at what I do, and reassure the client that they are getting what they paid for (after all, we do judge books by their cover, we do look at the quality of packaging not just of the goods inside). I’ll admit they also make me feel good about myself – they contribute to putting me in a good state.

The problem is, if I’m going to a meeting in the morning then I tend to prepare in my study. And that means I have to prepare in a mess. Does that affect my preparation? You bet it does. Before I can start, I have to clear space on the desk, and often remove the latest pile of mail from my chair. I’ll spend a while looking for the books and papers I need to prepare from. I might take a while finding my car keys. I’ll forget something and have to go back for it, because it ended up under a sheet of paper on the side somewhere. By the time I get to my meeting I’m at the very least flustered, if not in a full-fledged panic. My inner state couldn’t be further from the calm, professional state I show to the outside world.

How much calmer and more congruent will I be when I can prepare for meetings in a tidy, peaceful environment, able to put my hands on what I need when I need it. How much closer will my inner self-image be to the polished, professional outer image I try to portray.

So the time has come to attack the mess. I’m away on a trip to Canada for a week, and I’ve set aside a couple of days when I get back to tackle my bete noire. Old bank records will be shredded (in the UK you only have to keep a mere 6 years of records for tax purposes – I’m sure I have at least 10 years’ worth). My ‘grab file’ of other people’s promotional materials that I use for ideas will be purged. Old software manuals and discs will go to their final resting place. All the power adapters for long-vanished gadgets, accessories for old phones and PDAs, old hard disks and unidentifiable computer cables will finally get sorted out. Several months of filing will be labelled with my brand new labelling machine. And (horror of horrors) I will be sorting through my bookshelves and deciding what to keep and what to sell.

I’m hoping to make some interesting discoveries, rather like an archaeologist digging through rock strata. Long lost treasures will be unearthed, along with the home-office equivalent of an old boot buried in the sand (a friend of mine once got very excited while beachcombing with a metal detector, only to dig up a hobnail boot. If anyone reading has an odd size 9 left boot with no right boot to match I can put you in touch with the person who has its partner!)

All in all, I’m really rather excited by it all. I’ll be field testing two books – one on decluttering, one on maintaining the right balance of clutter and neatness to keep you creative and productive – so I’ll let you know how I get on, and hopefully produce some handy tips for knockig your workspace into shape.

In the meantime, look at your own work environment – whether it’s a home office or a rented one – and ask yourself if it supports your personal brand or conflicts with it. Is it somewhere you enjoy working, or do you end up taking work into another room when you can? Do you know where everything is, or do you have to allow extra time to get ready for meetings because you know you’ll have to do some digging? Would you be comfortable having a videoconference sitting at your desk? Could you have a meeting at your desk?


1 Comment

  1. You’d be a good guinea-pig for my analysis of work style: a simple pie-chart of time spent on processes vs time on projects can be helpful. If you hadn’t left your office unloved for so long, I’d guess you prefer projects to processes. Once my “project” clients have cleared their desks, I ask them how often they will need to think about ‘desk-keeping’; what will they need to do daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly etc. It’s probably not something they’ve addressed before! (I can empathise, I personally consider of housekeeping as a chore, but I force myself to think how often the kitchen floor needs cleaning!)
    Enjoy your office clearing project, it sounds like fun!

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