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Everything in Its Place

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A journalist gives (and takes her own) advice on organizing, decluttering and simplifying your desktop

homeSometimes I feel like an iPod stuck in some random mode … a little of this, a little of that and a big jumble of noise. This usually happens when I look at my desk (okay, my whole office).

I can’t count how many times I have wondered why I can’t seem to keep my desk tidy. I love the way a desk, office and room feels when everything is in its place. Sometimes I get on an “organizational kick,” as my husband calls it, and organize myself right out of being able to find things!

Are journalists notorious messy? Think of their images: stacks of papers piled nose-high, wads of crumbled paper near a trash can from missed ring shots, half-consumed water bottles and so on. Yet, I can tell you that tidiness is next to godliness at the offices of pals at Vogue, where desks are near bare except for the requisite vase of white flowers, and Town & Country, where elegant accoutrements such as Mont Blanc pens are lined in rows and various projects are tucked into colored folders ready at a glance for review. But wait, they are editors not reporters!

In newsrooms, where reporters toil, there’s stuff everywhere, because while it’s active it’s on the desk; placing it in a filing cabinet means it’s finished, gone to press, filed in journo parlance as “evidence.” I come from a newsroom mentality honed from working at places like The Times-Picayune and The New York Times, both of which I can attest now encourage more orderly work habits than in years past. The computer helps—there are tons of things on my desktop—but in the end, there’s still a lot of paper. That I can tell you where something is—try the third pile, left-hand side of the desk, midway down under a yellow legal pad—still doesn’t justify the mess. I so want to be editorlike, with fresh flowers, manicured folder bins and rows of elegantly matched boxes holding all the stuff now evident on my desk (paper clips, felt tip pens, cameras, memory sticks).

So in preparation for “back to school,” I’ve made a list and I’m going to put it into practice.

  • Rediscover the Power of 10: I will no longer wait until things pile up. I will think of all the things I can clear up, out and away in 10 minutes. Then I will do it. Everyone’s got 10 minutes, even me.
  • Set my computer to Auto Back: Then I can clear out the extra stuff that keeps making it crash. I also won’t have 320 e-mails to weed through in order to find the ones I need to answer ASAP.
  • Limit e-mail to one hour a day: On computer, Blackberry or iPhone. I will pick up the phone instead. Sometimes it’s nice to hear a voice on the other end.
  • Stop printing e-mail: That includes answers to e-mails. It’s not eco-friendly, and I don’t need to carry that much stuff to the trash at week’s end. That goes for MapQuest directions, too. I’ve got a GPS; I don’t need printouts.
  • Get a personal shredder: Put it on one side of my desk and a wastepaper basket on the other. I love the sound of shredding paper. It feels as if it’s gone forever (and it’s probably backed up on the computer, anyway).
  • Consolidate hardware: How much do I really need? Four speakers? I use Skype twice a month? Reduce speakers to two. One landline. One cell phone. One printer. One monitor. (Actually, I have three on my desk as I write this. Why? Well, they are very handy for editing photos, but really!)
  • Get a wireless mouse: One that can work with my desktop and laptop computer. I am sick of wires, mouse pads and the like.
  • Read or pitch articles: I clip magazine articles to read in my spare time, like on planes. Now the folders are too large and planes are too crammed. Note to self: Most articles are now on the Internet!
  • Sharpen Pencils Monday: Having a handful of freshly sharpened pencils makes me feel as if I’m ready to work, organized and prepared—even if I’m not.
  • Handle it once (okay, maybe twice): I’ve been known to shuffle paper from place to place on my desk, in my office, sometimes in the kitchen! Will henceforth stop, act on what needs to be done with that paper and be finished with it!

Now where’s my shredder ….