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Keeping a desk organized is a personal matter. Everyone handles her/his work in a different manner depending upon the work and tasks that are performed for the job. Some desks are phone intensive, some are paper intensive. I have found over years of working with clients that there are four keys to keeping everything under control. It doesn't matter what type of job or tasks are being performed at that desk. It could be an assistant's, doctor's, researcher's, or executive's desk -- the same four keys apply to keeping things under control.

Think of each key as both a tool and a technique to keep your busy desk under control. Apply each one to your specific desk and job circumstances and you will find you will have fewer paper stacks, lost papers and chaos when things get hectic.

Key 1: Calendar
Everyone maintains a calendar. Many people maintain more than one calendar. The key is to use it, whether to schedule or to refer to something for yourself or another person. Some people naturally remember what events are on the schedule for the day, others need to refer to it several times a day. Priorities shift. Keep things in focus so nothing is forgotten. Calendars can be paper or electronic on a PC or PDA such as a Palm or Pocket PC. The media you use for your calendar depends upon how you think and pace yourself. No one way is correct when dealing with your calendar. However, when working with groups or teams, PC calendars are the most effective way to accomplish scheduling.

Also included with the calendar key is the Action List and a spiral notebook for logging notes, phone calls - anything that would have ended up on Post Its or small pieces of paper. Some people keep these as sections in their paper calendars. PC and PDA systems contain these functions which are closely linked to the calendar function. For those who are visually oriented, a paper Action List can solve the problem of pieces of paper and Post Its scattered everywhere.

Key 2: Right Hand Desk Drawer
This is the file drawer usually located on your right. Your most active files - projects, forms. Etc. are kept here. These are the files you need to grab in an instant when the phone rings or because you use the contents frequently. Automatically filing active materials in this drawer makes it easy to find them quickly and prevents piles of papers and files on your desk.

Key 3 Vertical File
This is a device (there are many varieties) that holds files upright on the desk to keep them visible. The only files that are in the vertical file holder are the ones you must work with before the end of the day. Keeping them on your desk this way keeps you focused on what needs to be done that day and reduces the likelihood of postponing it for another day.

Key 4: Kitchen Timer
A kitchen timer can also be called an anti-procrastination tool. Not everyone needs this tool. But projects manage to expand or shrink to fit the allotted time. If you need to keep yourself paced to get quickly through the mail or if you are procrastinating about a project or task, a timer is a great way to bargain with yourself to "Just do it," as the Nike commercials say.

Maintaining control of your desk and your day might require changing one or more habits. Some habits may require a small change to make improvements, others might need large ones and some might be totally new ways of thinking about managing work. Just remember that change is sometimes uncomfortable, but the rewards can be remarkable.