End-of-year self review, part 1: organizing your office life for a happy New Year

It’s the end of the year, when offices are mostly empty and the self-employed are at the movies. Whether you volunteered to stay at work “in case a client calls” or you’re just taking it easy in the home office, you have work to do. In this three part series, we’ll discuss the key tasks you can do in these final days of the year to ensure a strong kick-off to the business new year.
Today, we’ll cover the tasks everyone needs to do, whether you work for yourself, someone else, or are searching for work. You’ll need:

  • Folders
  • File cabinet
  • Recycle bin/box
  • Separate “to shred” box
  • USB key or other portable back-up device
  • New office decorations

Step 1: Clean out your files

File cabinets are a great place to start any massive purge. Not only are you likely sitting on a ton of paper you don’t need, it makes room for all that paper on your desk we’ll be addressing in the next section. Plus, wouldn’t you like to be able to open your drawer without using a crowbar?

Prep your cabinet area. Position your recycle and shred boxes close, but in distinctly different places. You don’t want to recycle sensitive materials, and shredding unnecessary paper simply costs money.

Review each file. Yes, seriously. Re-read and assign each document as appropriate:

  • To keep: materials you need to do your job now.
  • To file: materials you need keep, but are not in active use now.
  • To shred: sensitive materials you no longer need.
  • To recycle: materials you no longer need that are not sensitive. When in doubt, shred.

Return the folders to the cabinet. As you re-file, check the state of the folder. Replace beat-up folders or use labels to clearly-write the folder name. If it’s over-filled, break the materials up into multiple folders. (Or at least get a rubber band.)

Step 2: Clean off the desk

This can be painful for pack rats, but it’s worth it. Here are some guidelines:

Review every piece of paper on your desk. Same rules apply as filing: keep, recycle or shred.

Install and store software. Have software sitting on your desk? Install it, put the disk away, and return it to IT (or store it).

Rearrange your desk for comfort. I spent nearly a year spinning in my chair and leaning to answer my phone before a co-worker made the obvious suggestion: Move the phone to the left. (I’m left handed.) Simple solutions can make a huge difference.

Edit and update your decorations. We constantly add things to our desk, but when was the last time you took something away? Update your kid’s artwork, review your gag gift collection and decide if that plant is really worth it. Can’t part with anything? Ask for shelves.

Step 3: Organize your professional library

I’m always amazed by the number of severely outdated books on office shelves. Unless you truly need to hang on to that HTML 1.0 book, take it off the shelf.

Step 4: Clean up your computer

Now that you have a clean desk, it’s time to update the space where you spend most of your time: the computer. Here are some guidelines to get you started.

Clear out your e-mail. Every interaction, from e-mail to calendar requests, contribute to your e-mail limit and bulge. To control the chaos, create folders (by business, client, project – your choice), and start filing. Review and delete mails that are redundant, unnecessary (“thanks” mails) or just no longer needed. Note that many major corporations require employees to delete mail after a certain time period. Check with your legal department for guidance.

Tackle your calendar. Delete the dentist appointments, coffee dates, long-dead project meetings and other detritus. Keep ongoing appointments and recent meetings that may come up in future conversations.

Check your Tasks list. This can also become a wasteland of long-forgotten errands that don’t need to sit on the server.

Organize your digital files. All those things you did with your files? Same thing applies here. But before you delete…

Backup! If you work for someone else, odds are they have a backup in place. Self-employed people, you are your IT department. Don’t neglect your back-ups. Do a mass back-up now, and then set regular back-ups going forward. (We’ll dig into this and other tidbits for the self-employed in Part 2 of the series.)

Step 5: Take home personal files


We all have photos, music and other miscellaneous items on our computers that are just for us. These can be lost in the blink of an eye. Save your personal files on a USB drive or other portable and take them home. If you keep them on your computer, back them up regularly.

Part 2: Spending the end of year organizing your home office/business
Part 3: Spending the end of year on yourself

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