What Paper Piles and Digital Disorganization Cost You

Some people embrace clutter. They love their messy office. They know exactly what’s in each and every one of their 27 piles of paper littering the desk, floor, windowsill, and credenza. ‘Go ahead and test me. I know what’s there,’ they say confidently.

Their computer desktop is littered with dozens of unsorted files. Their inbox holds emails in the tens of thousands. Maybe more than 100,000.

But what if that person has the flu, or is working in another time zone for a week. If they weren’t able to get to a computer or phone for a few days, would a colleague be able to find what they need in that messy office?

What if you were out longer, such as a serious illness or injury for a few months. Would it be intuitive for your colleagues to know where to access files, either in your office or on your electronic directory? Could they find everything to take over the project?

Here’s the thing: you may know where everything is, but no one else will understand your system. All they see is a high pile of paper leaning dangerously to the left. Or blocking the heating vent.

If they are allowed access to your digital files, your piles likely won’t make sense to them. If files are buried in a system only you can understand, that spells trouble for the company.

When you hear someone say they know where everything is, ask if they have room on the desk to read, make notes, or edit a document. Is there space for water, a coffee cup, to review a file? Are several projects in one tall leaning-tower-of-Pisa style stack? That is probably not serving them well and could be a safety hazard.

And it costs.

Not being able to have clients in your office, or looking unprofessional if you do, affects your professional reputation. It looks like you aren’t in control. People wonder if the way you approach work is the same — unkept and ignored.

Above all, it costs the company or your business by not sharing information with colleagues or clients on a regular basis.

it’s impossible for anyone else to know your system. If you have one. And if you don’t, I encourage employees and small business owners to file, have a spot for current projects, and archive those long over and complete, rather than let them sit in your office gathering dust. You’ll all benefit.