Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Creating a More Productive Office

Organize your environment by removing the small irritants that hinder your achievement.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q:I'm constantly plagued by little irritants that absorb my time and eat up my day. My phone cord is too short, the trash can is constantly kicked as I pass by, my bulletin board hangs crooked, my desk drawers seem to jam and so on. It never seems to end--and all these little irritants absorb my time. How can I deal with these small problems so I can move on to the most important tasks at hand?

A: I can't tell you the number of times I've heard that complaint when I've had opportunity to help people achieve greater effectiveness in the workplace. The fact is, they're usually telling the truth. They really are being hindered by any number of easily fixed, often tiny problems that have been there from day one. The problem is that we tend to adjust to the situation instead of adjusting the situation, and the irritants remain.

I've found consistently that when my clients move into a new office, they immediately start working and don't give themselves adequate time to "set up their nest" or get organized. Perhaps the most humorous example of this was a Colorado client who hired me to come out and train 12 of his people with a daylong seminar and hands-on coaching. As I rotated through and worked with each attendee, I entered one office, and, to my amazement, it was beautiful! Nothing out of place, all very organized--even gorgeous to boot! I asked the owner of the office why she even took the course. She replied that there was something about the office that had been bugging her for years, but she couldn't put her finger on it. I told her that I couldn't help her, that the office was close to wonderful, but she insisted I spend some time there analyzing her situation.

As I watched her begin her work, the phone rang. As she reached for it, I noticed that the cord was about 25 feet long. While speaking, she began to wrap it around her desk, her neck and her computer. It was a nightmare to watch. After she hung up, I asked her if she always answered the phone like that and she said, "Yes, and it drives me crazy!" The phone was on her right and she was right handed, so the long cord lay across her writing area and was in the way all over her desk.

Realizing this, I suggested that she put the phone on her left. It took us three minutes to move the phone. When it rang again, she picked it up with much ease, talked for a moment, hung up, got up and gave me a hug. And I got big bucks for that!

Do you know how long she had lived with that little irritant? Seven years! She had put up with a small irritant (probably "inherited" from her predecessor) instead of removing the irritant that had hindered her achievement. Once identified and fixed, she experienced the same relief we feel when a speck of dust is removed from our eye.

Don't be afraid to experiment with your office or desk setup. If a certain moment makes your day uncomfortable, try to find out whether that activity contains an irritant. You'll be amazed at how small adjustments, which cost you and your firm nothing, can make your workday run more smoothly.

Sue McMillinequips and encourages her clients to clear office and home clutter, enabling them to find anything they own in seconds, recover 40 percent of the space in their environment, gain up to an hour a day in productivity and save as much as $5,000 per employee per year. Some of her clients include 3M, ABA, Boeing, Eli Lilly, Fannie Mae, Intel, Kodak, Marriott, MCI, NEA, Steelcase, Toyota and Xerox.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.