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Thought For The Day

Improve Revenues by Eliminating Workplace Clutter

© The Gulas Group 2010

Back in 1979 I started my first business to improve human capital which was called Performance Plus. I was affiliated with Priority Management Systems Incorporated. One of the first things we did was sponsor a messy desk contest in the area. It was so successful that for over five years Performance Plus was spotlighted on the local TV news every year featuring stories eliminating desk stress. We had various sponsorships from the local chambers of commerce to newspapers. I was hired to give speeches to various civic organizations to talk about desk stress.

As the business grew I thought I had become to sophisticated and decided being known as the guy that help to organize the workplace was not hip enough. It is not that we don’t do this any more it’s just that we do not promote it.

Then something recently happened to re consider my thoughts on organizing the workplace. Last year I did a Creativity and Innovation webinar. Because of that event a client hired me to come in and apply the creativity process to his organization. The goal was to save money in a down economy.  The group decided we could save money by eliminating desk stress and the digital chaos created by e-mails. You may be asking how much a company could save if they decrease the workplace clutter.

The company has 150 employees that eliminating the workplace clutter could apply to. It was estimated the average total compensation package of this group was $60,000 per employee. Multiply 60,000 times 150 for an annual payroll of $900,000. It is estimated that 50% of time is spent on electronic and physical paperwork clutter. The cost for that organization to deal with paperwork clutter was estimated at $450,000. You may be asking what workplace clutter is.  Workplace clutter stems from time wasted producing distributing and reading unnecessary e-mails, memos and reports. Time is also wasted processing forms and just plain looking for project information scattered somewhere in the computer or on the desk.             

What is “Desk Stress” it is the silent interruptions that infiltrate the workplace disguised as files that distract from the task at hand, numerous phone messages and reminders strewn on the phone messages scream “call me.” The result is a trail of unfinished or un-started, unanswered letters, unwritten reports, unreturned phone calls, and unread memos and publication – all of which literally haunt your mind. It’s important that you work from a desk cleared of everything unrelated to the project at hand. Everything else should be in file, drawers or closets.

During our workshops we repeat this statistic. The average worker in America today spends 45 minutes a day looking for things within an arms length of their desk. One of our goals was to get as much of those 45 minutes back as possible by eliminating desk stress. We drilled down and asked ourselves how much of the $450,000 in wasted time could we recoup? The goal was to re coup at least 30% or $135,000 per year of productive time created by clutter.
If you look at ways to be more effective at clearing the clutter by saving just 40 minutes a day, 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon each day, you will. . . .
Add 200 minutes per week (3.33 hours)
Add 860 minutes per month (14.33 hours – 1.79 days)
Add 10,320 minutes per year (172 hours – 21.5 days)
We established several action items to make sure we were moving in the right direction. One action item was making sure their Microsoft Outlook in box was empty every day when you left the office. Next was the ability to find things or create a 20/20 recall system. We decided each desk had to be free of all clutter. We asked each person to only work on one item at a time. We set up an e-mail manifesto which set the rules for using e-mail virtually eliminating the default position of becoming a boss centric organization. We created a clear your desk action plan and implemented it with great success. We discussed who to CC how to manage CC and how to eliminate unwanted copies period.
We set up a clean the desk mentors group. We worked on how to process e-mails in their Microsoft Outlook software. One of the tactics we taught the group was how to convert e mails to tasks, appointments or inserting information into contact records.

All in all we implemented and put into place twenty or more action items.

Here is some of what we discovered when the plan was up and running. Executives went home earlier. Everyone felt they were getting more work done with significantly less stress. There was less fire fighting or crisis management. There was literally no more starting and stopping the work. Fewer items were being lost or searched for.
People were not using e-mails for everything.  In fact if an item was a true emergency people would actually call or go to someone’s office and ask for assistance. This meant that everyone was able to schedule their e-mail and use the 4-D formula to process the information
The 4-D formula

  1. Do it now
  2. Decide when (date activate for future)
  3. Delegate it
  4. Delete/Dump it

But the biggest question is did we save the company money that fell to the bottom line? The simple answer is yes. We created enough buzz by creating organizational consistency in the way e-mail and messy desks were managed that the company was able to not lay off four employees in a slow economy.

Was this company and exception and will all companies perform as well. My thought is they probably are the exception. My reasoning about that is based on the owner’s willingness to establish a process that everyone was held accountable for. Yes the organization left some room for personal choices and values but they insisted that the rules be adhered to by everyone and it worked even beyond their own expectations.

So you may be asking is my organization ready to embark on a way to save money by eliminating workplace clutter? If you are willing to find out begin with 15 question quiz titled “How Cluttered is Your Desk” from Declan Treacy’s book titled “Clear your Desk”. Pass this quiz to all your mission critical employees and score the teams results.

  1. While sitting at your desk do you ever feel completely overwhelmed by the backlog of paperwork facing you?
  2. Do you frequently worry about unfinished paperwork on your desk, when you are away from the office?
  3. Is there so much paperwork on the desk that you have to find another clear space when you want to tackle an important project?
  4. Do you have days in the office when you have been extremely busy dealing with paperwork but don’t feel as if you have achieved anything constructive?
  5. Do you often fill your briefcase with paperwork to deal with at home?
  6. Do you often stay late in the office to try and catch up on the backlog of paperwork?
  7. Do you spend too much time “fire-fighting” because the paperwork has not been dealt with effectively?
  8. While working on one project are you often distracted by other paperwork around you on your desk?
  9. Do you ever find paperwork on your desk that you have forgotten about and it is too late to do anything with it?
  10. Do you spend too much time looking for paperwork on or around your desk?
  11. Do you often put off uncomfortable paperwork and deal with lower payoff, but more interesting items?
  12. Do you sometimes miss important opportunities because you have been too busy to deal with the paperwork?
  13. Do you often handle paperwork several times before finally deciding what to do with it?
  14. Do you face too many interruptions from your colleagues rushing towards your desk with paperwork for your attention?
  15. Do you always keep paperwork moving or does it tend to build up on your desk?


E-mail your 15 yes and no answers and we will score your “Clear Your Desk” report to results@gulasgroup.com.

Because of this companies success in creating revenue in a down economy by eliminating workplace clutter will I again promote what we do to eliminate desk stress? You can count on that and it started today with this article.

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