Free Enterprise Staff  | July 22, 2015

Office Organization Tips From a Professional

One time when Lisa Zaslow was waiting for a meeting to start, she was so overcome by the layout of the room she was in that she did something drastic.

“I worked with one nonprofit, and we sat down to do our initial meeting in this small room that was laid out so poorly that it was just so awkward to even sit around the table,” she recalls. “Before we got started, I stood up and asked, ‘Can we all get up and move this table 90 degrees?’ Everybody immediately said, ‘Oh my gosh that made such a difference.’ And the nonprofit’s executive director actually told me, ‘If you do nothing else, it will already be worth it.’

This is the kind of advice that businesses and homeowners alike pay Zaslow to dispense. Zaslow is an organization expert and founder of Gotham Organizers, which has a roughly fifty-fifty split between commercial and consumer clients. Whether they’re having troubles laying out a space or keeping up with ever-growing piles of clutter, Zaslow’s clients all have the same problem: They need to get more organized.

Helping people who are trying to organize their personal and professional lives requires a kind of patience that not everyone possesses. To be effective, you have to be part scientist, part sweet talker, and part artist—not to mention organized. Depending on whom she is working with, Zaslow might have to switch up her approach, making critical decisions as she learns a particular person’s quirks or needs.

Yet there is a key difference, Zaslow says, that typically characterizes her two sets of clients. “Offices don’t have cats,” she says, laughing. “People tend to be emotionally attached to the stuff in their homes. You might be sort of attached to papers—some people don’t want to throw away office items—but it’s not the same level. What I really like about offices is there’s much more of a clear purpose that people have besides just creating more space. People really see an impact in a different way when they’re cleaning out their offices.”

What kind of impact? Well, organizing an office can have a very real effect on a company’s bottom line. Commercial rents are incredibly expensive in many cities across the U.S., and simply freeing up space can save businesses from wasting such a precious commodity. Similarly, keeping your organization’s storage closet or kitchen pantry organized gives you additional insight into what you do and don’t need to stock up on.

“The amount of time you save is also huge,” Zaslow says. “A survey was done that found people waste an average of an hour a day looking for things at work. If you’ve got less stuff that is also organized, then you’re going to spend way less time looking for things. It’s also easier to focus when you can quickly find what you need, and you don’t have all this extraneous stuff in your frame of vision.”

Zaslow didn’t always know she would become a professional organizer. She worked in human resources for years until she had what she calls a “premature midlife crisis” about 20 years ago. After a lot of soul searching, she realized she wanted to work closely with people and make a difference in their lives, all while using her unique skillset. That led her to start Gotham, which she has run since.

In the 15 years since starting Gotham, she has racked up quite a bit of experience working with various companies that vary in size, makeup, and industry. Since not everyone is able to hire a consultant, we asked Zaslow for some office organization tips entrepreneurs and business owners can follow in their own offices. Here are four quick rules anyone can follow.

1. If you’re not an organization guru, you should collaborate with someone to set up a framework that either you or an employee can then maintain.

Once you’ve teamed with someone to build an organization policy, it’s that much easier to stay on top of it.

“A lot of times organizational duties just fall on someone who is very organized,” Zaslow says. “But just because you’re great at maintaining a system doesn’t mean you’re great at creating them.”

2. Schedule an annual or semi-annual purge day.

If you’re in charge, then consider setting aside a few hours either once or a few times a year where you essentially mandate that your employees organize their spaces and workplace footprints.

“Sometimes managers don’t realize that it’s their responsibility to set clear guidelines for records retention,” Zaslow says. “When they haven’t set those rules—either on a team- or company-wide level—it creates uncertainty. I meet with employees at companies all the time who say the second they throw something away their boss will ask them about it.”

3. Actually think about how your office is set up.

When you’re surrounded by something every day, it’s easy to stop noticing its poor design. Zaslow recommends giving your office space a thorough examination to make sure that it’s functional. Sometimes you’ll notice a simple fix like you’ve placed chairs in front of a door that then can’t be opened. Other times, it’s subtle. Either way, you should be on the lookout for areas where little changes will mean big improvements.

4. Always be alert.

It’s really easy to start absentmindedly stockpiling needless items around your office. To combat this, Zaslow advises her clients to actively think about anything new they bring into their spaces. “The kiss of death is when you say, ‘Oh, I’m going to put something here just for now.’ Instead, try to follow the one in, one out rule,” she says.