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Business Advice

Clearing the clutter in the office

Simple steps that SMEs can take to be more organised and, thus, more productive in the office.
The Straits Times - September 12, 2012
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Clearing the clutter in the office
  • Are there any simple and cost-effective ways to minimise the clutter in the office? As an SME, we operate out of a small space and the mess is gradually spiralling out of control.

While multinational corporations (MNCs) are likely to have processes and operations heads to ensure workplaces are efficient, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are less likely to have that expertise. There are, however, simple steps you can take to be more organised and, thus, more productive.

Ensure your company's digital filing reflects your business goals. The projects that generate income should be what you see first when you start up your computer.

Stick to the basic "Fast" rule for anything that crosses your desk, whether in hard copy or electronically:

  • Forward to delegate
  • Action now
  • Store or file (including self-storage facilities)
  • Trash or dispose.

Use easy cloud storage options (for example, iCloud or Dropbox) to share data across devices and platforms, and make sure you are not losing previous versions or duplicating efforts.

Automate as many electronic processes as possible: from backups to e-mail folder sorting to bill payments.

Keep a strict inventory of what goes in and out of self-storage, and place a small foldable table in the storage unit to facilitate the process.

Set aside time for filing and storage and do them.

You will save yourself time, energy and aggravation in the long term if you do them systematically.

Mimic the success of MNCs, such as ANZ and Australia's Commonwealth Bank, by providing lockers for employees' personal belongings and keeping the office space strictly for business purposes. Do the same in your home office by separating work from leisure.

In your physical office layout, consider work flow, communication and potential expansion.

Work flow and employee movement should be in straight lines with minimal backtracking and criss-crossing.

Ask yourself: Who deals most frequently with outsiders and which departments and equipment tend to produce the most noise?

Wi-Fi connections and virtual storage provide great flexibility, but you still need to plan the equipment (printer, scanner, fax, shredder and so forth) into the physical layout.

Use self-storage facilities rather than storing inventory or archival materials in valuable office real estate. When doing so, label and arrange items based on frequency of use and how accessible they need to be.

Apply the Fast rule to self-storage as well:

  • Forward. Give relevant staff access to your storage unit. That way, you can delegate stock retrieval to one or two employees rather than doing it all on your own.

  • Action/Access. Engage a self-storage facility which has 24-hour access at locations that are convenient to you. Having the facility close to your workplace or near expressways and MRT stations means more speed and efficiency.

  •  Store. Store not only inventory but also items that you do not immediately need. These include marketing materials such as brochures. Consultants who conduct workshops at client locations should also consider storing equipment such as projectors, easels and stationery.


  • Trash items to reduce space needed. Flexible storage facilities allow you to downgrade to smaller units when you do not need so much space and upgrade again when you do. Using storage space on an as-needed basis saves you money.

Answered by: Georgina Wong and Tanneke Zeeuw, professional organisers, Asian Professional Organisers; and Mike Hagbeck, chief executive officer, Extra Space Self Storage.

Automate as many electronic processes as possible: from backups to e-mail folder sorting to bill payments.


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