New Year, New You: Creating a Productive Workspace [CONTEST!]

[It’s a new year meaning it’s the perfect time to wipe that slate clean and start anew. And we made it our resolution to help you out. Every Thursday this month we’ve been bringing you advice from experts on ways to improve yourself and your life.  First we feng shui-ed your rooms to make them happier, more productive places and centered ourselves so we could handle whatever comes our way. Then we got our finances all in order. And now, at long last, it’s time for organization expert (seriously, Oprah uses this guy!) Peter Walsh to help us get our desks and lives in order. P.S. He’s giving away a MEGA prize, so check that out at the end.]

Does this sound familiar? You’re taking 18 credit hours, involved in extra curriculars, trying to study for exams, accepting social invitations left and right and trying to impress the cute guy in psychology class. You don’t exactly have free time, and well, your desk reflects it. These days, it’s starting to look more like last night’s party scene than an efficient, productive workspace that you started with in August. And I’m guessing the same holds true for your “mobile office,” i.e. your backpack!

You’re not alone! But it’s time to take back control and start the New Year off with less clutter and more organization. The following are a few of my favorite tips and advice for organizing your workspace and mind that will help you maintain your studies, social calendar and sanity throughout the rest of the semester and year.

Here’s what you need to know:

Make a List, Check It Twice
When writing a to-do list, group similar tasks together such as finishing assignments or running errands to increase efficiency. Avoid getting overwhelmed by breaking it into small, manageable tasks. Write to-dos on individual sticky notes and put them on a wall calendar. After classes, review your checklist and cross off completed items. Move any pending items to a fresh list for tomorrow.

Organize the Paper Trail
Deal with new papers first, period. No matter how high the old piles are, deal with new arrivals immediately. Once you are faithfully dealing with new papers, such as bills and homework assignments, begin organizing old ones into your new filing system. About that….

File It Away

Sure, you probably don’t have room in your dorm or apartment for a big filing cabinet, but don’t worry, expanding files work great too! Name your file folders with nouns, using ones that first pop into your mind first. Do not create a label for miscellaneous items! If something is worth hanging onto, it’s worth creating a specific label.

Keep It Close
For those papers that you need at arms reach on a regular basis, create a filing system that keeps them from taking over your precious desktop “real estate.” One way to do this is by using a stepped desktop organizer that enables you to file papers in labeled folders and place them in a neat, easy to navigate system.

Use ONE Calendar
You may have one calendar from school and another from mom and dad, but this can actually lead to more confusion and missed appointments or deadlines. To help you stay on track, combine your calendars into one and color-code like tasks, such as school, social, doctor’s appointments, and so on. You can even carve out time for tasks such as job-hunting or phone calls with mom to ensure the job will get done.

Clean Up Your Inbox
You probably get a ton of emails each day from friends, professors, news outlets, and even shopping reminders from your favorite retailers. To avoid getting sucked into hours of inefficiency reading emails, create folders for each topic and immediately sort messages into an appropriate folder. (GMail is great for this!) Even if you don’t have time to deal with it now, sort it for later action. I also suggest opting out of any newsletters you receive and don’t read. Any opportunities to cut down on your digital clutter will help you stay focused and efficient.

Create a One Stop Message Center
No need to hang lists, phone numbers and reminders all over your wall. Instead, create a one-stop message center with a cork or sticky board. Hang your daily to-do list, impending assignment deadlines and a weekly calendar of events and meetings. This way, you’ll have all your need-to-know information in front of you. You can also add hooks for your keys, purse and backpack and a recharging station for your cell phone, and you’ll never go running around your room trying to find things on your way out the door!

Bottom line: There’s no faster way to inspire an immediate change in attitude than with an uncluttered, clever and pristine workspace. So let’s get to it! 2011 can be the year of organization, and trust me, you’ll have more time to enjoy all the wonderful things about college in and outside of class!

So now that you know what you need to be doing to stay organized and clutter-free, Peter’s going to help you do it! Peter and OfficeMax are giving one lucky CollegeCandy reader a total workspace makeover: a new desk, message board, file tray, cord management station, portable inbox station, expanding files, writing board, notebooks, letter tray, ottoman with hanging files inside, and more! I know, that’s a lot, right?

Yes, you get ALL of this!

How do you win?

Easy. Show us that you need Peter’s help by taking a picture of your current workspace. (Note: you must be in the photo to be considered!) Hop on over to our Facebook page and upload it there with one or two sentences telling us why your workspace needs a makeover. On Tuesday, February 1st, we’ll pick 5 entries and put them up on CollegeCandy.com, where our loyal readers (and your friends…when you beg them) will vote on whose space needs the most help. Voting will close on Friday, February 4th at 5pm EST.

Good luck (both in this contest and in organizing your life)!

Peter Walsh is a nationally acclaimed organization expert, former host of TLC’s Clean Sweep, host of Enough Already! on OWN, best-selling author and designer of Peter Walsh you.organized products at OfficeMax.

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