How to create optimal environments for productivity

Earlier this year I was involved in a de-cluttering challenge called 40 bags in 40 days. 

You throw out, donate, sell or gift one full garbage bag of stuff from your home or office every day for 40 days. 

It sounds impossible, right?  I over-exceeded on my one bag target each day and it was amazing.  I made about $2000 in the process.

I started with my wardrobe and donated four bags of clothes to charity. My wardrobe starts at size 8 and goes to size 14 (you’ll remember my past chocolate addiction) and I got rid of all of the larger sizes.  

I also sold clothes on eBay that I’d bought thinking I’d fit in to them one day and finally realised I was kidding myself.  Confession: I’ve still got a “skinny wardrobe” of clothes I’d like to fit into again one day.

Then, I used a new framework for wardrobe de-cluttering.

I decided to get rid of anything that didn’t look good on me.  I donated out another ten bags.

Who keeps clothes that don’t even look good on them? We all do.

The point of my story is that we all keep things we don’t need.

At home we keep old clothes, books, and Tupperware containers.  At work we keep paper, email and old training manuals.  

Declutter your workspace

When you de-clutter your desk or office set up four piles: do it, dump it, delegate it and read it.  Be brutal.  If you can find the information somewhere else when you need it, dump it.  Apply the same framework to your soft files and your email. 

When you declutter ask yourself:

  • Will I need it?  (Be honest)
  • When was the last time I used it? (Be ruthless)
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if I throw it out? (Be brave)
  • Could I easily find it somewhere else? (Be smart)
  • What can you immediately throw out that you’ve been holding on to?  

Workflow strategy

Prioritise your environment based on priority. Your filing system should be simple and easy to remember.

The five most important priorities in my role as Director of Human Capital are: Business Development, Client Management, Content Development, Marketing, and Leadership. 

They also form the basis of my filing system.  It makes things so easy when I am looking for information or trying to decide where I’ll save information.

Complete the following table to develop your filing system based on your priorities.  

  1. In the first column write your role title.
  2. In the second column write the hats you wear in your role.  These are your priorities.
  3. In the third column write all of the sub hats which relate to all of the hats you wear in your role.  
Your RoleHatSub Hat
 1.1. 1.
2. 1. 2. 
3. 1. 1. 
4. 1. 1.
5. 1. 1.

Optimise your environment

Set up your workspace based on frequency of use.  Check out the graphic below to see how things are physically placed based on frequency of use. 

Information you use daily should be at your fingertips, monthly files should be kept within walking distance of your desk, archive anything you’re only keeping for legal reasons and have a shared zone for files everyone needs rather than everyone having to keep the information.

Working files should be kept within arm’s reach.  These files should include:

  • Current projects – save them with the name hat / sub hat
  • Ongoing response – save them with the name hat / sub hat
  • Speak to files – save them by the name of each person and meeting
  • Useful information such as phone and birthday lists
  • A half way to the bin file for information you only need for a short time like plane tickets and booking information

Personal files

Shared files should be kept in a shared part of the office.

Get rid of all post it notes reminding you to do things.  Put your to dos in your task manager.  Don’t use your desk as a to do list.  Separate information and action.

Keep a clean desk policy and regularly clear out clutter.  

Set up your folders

Step 1: Implement

00. Half way to the bin

01. Management / team

02. Business development

03. Marketing

04. Leadership / strategy

05. Personal

09. Archive

Step 2: Purge and Move

00. Half way to the bin

01. Management / team

02. Business development

03. Marketing

04. Leadership / strategy

05. Personal

09. Archive

Your Old System will look something like this:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Finance
  • Compliance
  • Team
  • Events
  • Website
  • Personal
  • Reading
  • Clients
  • John 
  • Marketing

Number each of your folders based on priority.  This will help you implement the new system as your old folders will sit under your newly created folders.   It also provides you with a powerful reminder of your priorities every time you see it.  

Calls to action:

  • How long will it take you to implement your new filing system?  When will you do it?
  • Organise your hard and soft files
  • Capture ideas and things that need to be actioned
  • Set up your desk, email and desktop for optimal workflow
  • Design your workflow based on priority in your role.
  • Design your workspace based on frequency of use.  Include triggers to encourage good habits.

Set up new workflow folders:

  • Hard files
  • Soft files
  • Email
  • De-clutter (block out time in your diary)

Habit to work on:

  • Develop a clean desk habit.  Put away tools and papers when you finish each task.  Clean your desk regularly, and declutter as you work. 
  • Review your workflow management system and workspace on a quarterly basis to ensure the design is still aligned with your priorities and frequency of use. 

Let us know how you go!

Keep moving forward,


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