Your productivity depends on good tools and effective environments, and on using them both well. It can be overwhelming to get your office into shape and still get your work done. Try attacking one of these areas each week. Pick one where you can make a positive change right now, to keep you motivated.
These should be the centerpiece of your organizing system. Make lists for errands, expenses, phone calls, computer tasks and desk tasks. Create more detailed lists for your projects and ideas. Projects can have some steps fleshed out here, and ideas that you're not ready to work on have a holding spot so they're not forgotten. Work the lists everyday, skimming down each one and prioritizing daily as things change. This is a flexible, fast system that eliminates the need for physical reminders on your desk.
Use your calendar only for actual appointments, not for lists of errands (see above). This includes appointments with yourself to work on projects. Committing that time in your date book means it's as important as other appointments you make. It helps you avoid squeezing your work in between the demands of others.
What if you didn't check it first thing in the morning? Would the world come to an end? Once you start checking it, even if you turn off the reminder icons and sounds (which I recommend), it's hard not to get caught up in threads. The beginning of your day can be an emailess, phoneless oasis for you to think through projects, make plans and do other tasks that benefit from extended, focused thinking.
It's usually not practical for people to ignore their phones during business hours. But you can make your phone calls more productive by getting to the point of the call right away. Alternatively, make an appointment for a specific day and time to call someone back so you can schedule in that time and be prepared for the call.
Even if you work for yourself and there's no one to fill the inbox but you, it's a handy item to have. Use it to hold any items that you haven't decided what to do with yet. Write yourself quick notes when you don't have time to jot down a task in your planner. Fill it with business cards and scribbled notes you come home from events with. Don't let it be a catchall graveyard. Take time regularly to go through your inbox, make decisions, assign actions and empty it.
Rule of thumb: stuff you use all the time should be close by and stuff you don't can be farther away. Reserve desktop real estate for computer, phone, inbox and other supplies you use everyday. Make sure you leave room to work comfortably. If you prefer to have things out, use a credenza behind your desk for those piles.
Computer Set Up.
If your desk is mainly your computer, you can similarly group and organize items. Geographically separate documents from programs from downloads on your desktop. Keep documents in folders just as you would in a file cabinet and browse your operating system's file index to locate them. Also, just as with paper, never label your folders "Miscellaneous"!
A meeting without a specific agenda is usually a waste of time. Meetings are most productive when only the people who need to be there are, they know what they're doing and they leave with a clear idea of what to do next. Does the meeting need to happen at all? Can the same result be achieved with a phone call or two? If you are required to attend meetings, make sure you know what's expected of you before you leave, and by when.
Claire Tompkins specializes in simple, efficient systems to help people be more productive, more easily. Before figuring out how to do something better, ask why you're doing it at all. Got to http://www.clairetompkins.com to find out more. Contact her at Claire@clairetompkins.com and 510-535-0856.