Real Re-Boot for Work

Not a good work habit!  (Photo:

Not a good work habit! (Photo:

Recently I joked about walking into my new job as a whole new person. There were no preconceived notions about what I looked like or how I behaved, so I could have pulled it off! Well, except for the “acting” and the “lying” parts!

Without changing the way I present myself, there are lots of ways I can turn over a new leaf. I have developed dozens of bad habits on the job, and it is high time to undo them.

My Inbox

I have 9200 items in my inbox. I’m not kidding. I need to keep hundreds of emails for documentation. Hundreds, but not thousands. I delete minor emails right away (like the ones that say “thanks” or “works for me”) and I actually reply to most emails quickly. I just never get rid of them.

I have one good email habit, which is that I don’t leave my email open all day and reply to every message in real time. That way I can focus on some larger projects without distractions. I catch up on my email at least 4 times a day, which is still a lot!

I will never have an empty inbox, but I could ensure that every email kept is for a reason.

Our workplace recently switched to Outlook which has a pretty good To Do List feature and reminders, so that should help me out, too.

Not mine but I can dream! (Photo:

Not mine but I can dream! (Photo:

My Desk Top

Not my computer desk top – I mean the actual top of my desk! It was completely empty when I arrived two weeks ago, and now has neat little stacks of paper. History will surely repeat itself and I will end up with toppling stacks of papers and not be able to find anything. I am trying to start a few modest little good habits. For example, instead of jotting phone numbers to call on scraps of paper, I’m putting them into a phone calls notebook and checking off when I’ve returned the calls.  (I could just as easily do this in a list app or a contact manager.) I aim to have a neatly organized desk top with everything I need actually retrievable!

My Filing Cabinet

At my last job, I inherited files that documented the entire history of the organization. I didn’t dare get rid of them. I just eliminated duplicate files and organized it all. No one said I had to keep it, but it didn’t seem right to throw away history. This time, my predecessor wasn’t a pack rat! There is literally only one file drawer of papers. Which leads me to the next item:

A Paperless Office?

I’m appalled by all the documents I print and the copies I make. Sometimes I need a copy in front of me at a meeting, but in my own office, I do not. I have a real opportunity to strive for a paperless office. That means:

An Electronic Filing System

I took a records management course which convinced me of the need for proper file names. Whenever people send me files, I rename them so they fit into my system. Since the file names describe what is in them, the titles are all keyword searchable. If, like me, you receive or send a lot of monthly reports, you know that the best way of naming files with dates is:

Library Circulation Statitics 2013_08_17 and Library Circulation Statistics 2013_09_17 because then all the dates line up nicely in chronological order!

The Two Minute Rule

A best practice in Getting Things Done (GTD) is: if a task will take you two minutes or less, don’t add it to a list – just do it! I find this works great for emails, phone calls, verifying facts with someone, putting equipment away, and so on. Better than thinking at the end of the day, “Hey, I should have said yes to that meeting request.”

My next office accessory? (Photo:

My next office accessory? (Photo:

My “Luggage”

I used to carry a big backpack to work every day containing library books (coming or going), a lunch and snacks, sometimes extra clothes or shoes for the weather, documents I need with me for a meeting, and so on. Now I am working close to home and don’t want to be loaded up like a burro for the walk!


This needs its own category. I used to bring a second breakfast to work, because I got up so early, and two snacks, and a lunch. I didn’t want to leave snacky foods in my desk because I just knew I’d eat them all in one go! Now I get up later and leave later, and have only one breakfast, and make do with an apple for a snack, and go home for lunch. So I hope my days of Dar’s Office Snack Bar are over!




Finally, I used to have a very private office. My new one opens into a shared area with lots of staff coming and going all day. I am on display unless I get anti-social and close my door! I like that because everyone can see what my desk top looks like and how much paper I am wasting and whether I am eating cookies all day! So I feel much more accountable.

I may look and act like my same old self at the new job, but there is lots of room for improvement in how I accomplish my work! I will check in later to say how I’m doing.

What good work habits do you recommend?


  1. There’s some really interesting thoughts here! I remember when I moved sections every 6 months, I would often try to restart my snacking habits! I’m a big advocate of getting my inbox to zero, though I do keep a ‘to do’ list in the inbox, which I know is against some people’s rules. This is across three inboxs too – work, personal x 2. You’ve got me thinking, I could post about my work organisation and paperwork – it comes out of our ears here, as when we’re on site, it’s all we have… I have no tablets or similar fanjangled equipment to get information from, other than phoning back to the office!

    • Sounds like you need more technology in the field! You can imagine how much administration there is at the library – it’s the civil service, after all! I would like to hear about your system.

  2. Mel

    Congrats on the new job!!!

  3. Fiona

    We get charged 7 cents per page we print at my work (to our office accounts) and boy, it stops the printing! We only get $20 credit every few months to use. Maybe you cut printing by mentally ‘charging out’ per page?

    I love the Snack Bar reforms at work! I need to devote some thought to that…!

  4. I find that most paperwork can be scanned in and filed electronically (obviously there are some things you need the originals for!) I loved having a clear desk and an empty inbox- I used the archive folders in Outlook to file the emails that I needed to keep but had dealt with.

    • I hope I have success with Outlook archives. I had archived all kinds of stuff on our previous system, Groupwise, and lost it when we switched systems. I can’t imagine ever having an empty inbox (although I make sure I have no mail “unread.”) Scanning documents is possible, but not convenient in my workplace. I do scan printed photos, plans and drawings when needed. I will keep that in mind and see if I can scan more!

  5. when I worked during the day my desk would be a nightmare of papers all over the place, but I always got everything tidied up before leaving, so in the morning I would come back into a clean desk again; unless my boss was in earlier than me and then he would leave piles of paperwork for me to sort out!!

    Good luck in your new job.

  6. I have exactly 13995 unread emails in my inbox at the moment! To be fair, I changed email addresses a few months ago and imported all the old ones in, which turned them into unread ones. It really annoys me though and makes me wish I’d been on top of deleting them in the first place (or at least archived them).

    I really like the idea of the two minute rule – I always forget to reply to emails (probably because they get lost among the other 14000 emails), so it would be best to do it right away.

    PS. I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t keep food at my desk because I eat it all 🙂

    • Heh, I checked my actual number of emails today and it was 9833. But I did delete 75% of the emails I received today (after replying). Food has a very short life in my office; I definitely shouldn’t be bringing in snacks in multi-serving packs and especially not bags of candy 🙂

  7. Fantastic you can go home for lunch!

    • It’s awesome! I used to bring good lunches from home, but I didn’t always get to eat them because my plans for the day would change. Now I can go home and choose something based on how much time I have!

  8. Great ideas for changes whether or not one goes to work at a paying job! I’m starting a 100 day challenge to change some habits and will think about some of these as possible ones to pick.

  9. Lisa

    I haven’t seen an office where there is not a lot of paper waste. Remember when computers came out and the prediction was paper files would be eliminated? HA! I think we are worse now. In a couple of offices I worked in, we had a tray in the copier dedicated to one-side-used paper (I do this at home too). If you were only printing something for yourself as reference or a working copy then you could use this paper. We also had a tray were you could dump your one-side-used paper to be made into notepads (no sensitive materials, of course).
    The email inbox always seems to be an ongoing topic of debate as to how to manage them. I heavily used .pst folders (outlook) and unicode format to save outlook emails to a folder. The former works well to still have the email in your outlook system and the former for saving it to a file where others can access and see all attachments the email came with (you don’t have to save those separately). I kept my email inbox to 40 or less – basically my current work. Everything else was deleted or filed. Having said all this, I did have a co-worker who always had >10K emails in his inbox, and he could locate anything within minutes! I always wonder what he did with it all when he retired.

    • Now you’ve got me thinking! I will be turning over the electronic and paper files in my old office to someone new soon. But there are lots of emails I used as documentation that they should have access to. Any ideas? Let’s say it’s 1000 emails. We also re-use one-side printed paper as scrap paper but using it for personal printing is an excellent idea.

      • Lisa

        [*oops the 2nd ‘the former’ above should have been ‘the latter’!]
        The easiest thing may be to make a .pst folder with sub-folders to organize the emails into (providing you can look at subject lines to organize without opening every email). The new person can then upload the .pst file to their outlook system and refer them as needed. Or you could spend more time and file them (file>save as), but that likely means going through them more carefully and sorting. For a 1000 emails that would take some time! One thing I try to do is immediately delete the email I’ve just replied to since the original will be in your reply. That only works if there are no attachments in the original that you need to keep. Good luck!

      • Thanks, Lisa, I will test those methods out!

  10. A lot of ideas I can incorporate into my office job 🙂

  11. I like your thinking – these are all great ideas! It’s nice to have a fresh start. 🙂 My suggestion is to schedule tasks – if I know desk organizing is every Tuesday morning from 7:20 – 7:40, I’ll work harder to keep my desk clean during the week to “earn” 20 free minutes on Tuesday to do something else. Or, if I’m particularly swamped, I don’t fret over a messy desk knowing I have time set aside to tackle it.

  12. The 2 minute rule sounds like a really good idea! I’m a sucker for putting things into lists, but I feel like the 2 minute rule would help to stop putting off little things!

  13. I work in a solicitors and we use a lot of paper especially for the duplicate Court Bundles we have to produce. For my own job I only keep in duplicate now rather than the triplicate system I inherited. The Legal Aid Agency require to us to keep central paper records for audit purposes. However our firm is getting to grips with recycling in a big way with recycling boxes everywhere that take anything from plastic wrap to those awful plastic strapping that comes around photocopier boxes. All unwanted paper is shredded.
    It is good to start a new job with new habits and ideas – the ones you like will be the ones that work well for you and become effortless.
    I always have to clear my desk on an evening ready for a clean start the next day and I still take my apple a day to work for my 11am snack. Any paper destined for the shredding bag that has half a clean sheet I keep in a folder in my drawer then I bring it home and cut it in half to A5 size to use in my planner and only shred the used bit. I use the flag system on my emails and have lots of folders for the items completed. Once a file has been billed and archived I can archive the corresponding folder in my email box. I keep a staff folder for all those emails about staff changes / staff notices etc. But I am always on the look out for new ideas – so keep posting!!

    • Ooh, that evil plastic strapping! Does your law office have an enterprise document management system? The one where Rom works does, but he says they still print everything as well. In the past I have never managed a desk clear-off at the end of the day, but who knows? You have some good work habits!

  14. Im pretty much an organizing freak. EVERYTHING needs to be organized and if someone wants a document from eight years ago I will come up with it within minutes. I keep my old emails in folders (often in folders within other folders!), try to keep everything digital these days (this means scanning or photographing receipts and keeping them in a file on my computer), and I can’t live without my lists (made with a pen and paper, not on the computer for some reason).

    • I am pretty good at organizing and storing things, but I do keep too many documents, both paper and electronic. So I am tasking myself with deciding what the next person in my job will truly need and what they will consider junk. At home, it’s about the same – fairly organized, but too much stuff. I am learning to be more selective!

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