3 Tips for Organizing Your Writing Workspace

A new year brings new resolutions, such as these for organizing your writing workspace.

1. Master your clutter.

When paper comes across your desk, you have one of four options:

  • You can address the issue (for example, responding to a request for proposal). If you can address the issue quickly, say, within 2 to 3 minutes, then do so. If it is something that will take longer, you must review your projects and set priorities accordingly.
  • You can read it. If the material relates to something in one of your files, you would obviously file it.
  • You can file it. It’s better to file things when you get them. Otherwise, you might fill a box with papers to file, and then you must set aside time to go through that box and file everything. (Full disclosure: I have a red box near my desk that has papers for filing. No, I do not look forward to filing them.)
  • You can trash it. Ideally, this is the best option.

2. Follow the MacArthur rule.

Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) is remembered as one of the greatest generals in the history of warfare. Between wars he held important administrative posts. Following World War I, MacArthur served as superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point. After World War II, MacArthur served as supreme commander for the occupation of Japan.

In both these roles, MacArthur was known for getting things off his desk. William Manchester, MacArthur’s biographer, called the general “a clean-desk man—every decision was made immediately, every letter or memorandum answered before the day was over.”

With so many demands made on one’s time—and no staff to whom tasks can be delegated—how does one get everything done? Having focus and self-discipline help. These are skills that can always be developed and improved.

3. Master the interruptions.

Everyone, it seems, wants a moment of your time—but those moments can add up, leaving you with no time to do the things you put on your list.

Having designated telephone call and e-mail times can help you master unwanted interruptions. Let people know the best time to reach you by phone, or at about what time each day that might expect an e-mail answer from you.

In fairness, there are times when an incoming call or e-mail requires your immediate attention. Not all situations can be avoided or controlled. But by setting aside call and e-mail times, you take a step towards better managing your day, and focusing on your priorities.

Consider these tips as you begin your new year.