A few years ago, I worked in a department with a dozen or so Project Managers, all highly qualified Six Sigma professionals.
They were a great bunch to be around, and during my time there, I did learn a lot about the dark art of project management!
Many of the department’s projects aimed to improve the business and eliminate wasted time, effort and general errors.
The PMs had tools and techniques in their skill set, allowing them to identify critical issues and then resolve and improve the process.
One of the projects I worked on used a methodology called ‘5 S’ to improve the overall office environment and learn how to organise your office and keep it that way!
As I did in the past, I would imagine many Assistants using the quieter periods to sort all of their offices out, clear their drawers, and chuck away all the rubbish they’ve accumulated over the year.
This exercise also tends to incorporate the workspace and other department parts, which can be messy. But it is perfect for the organised Assistant.
So I thought I’d share the knowledge I gained from the 5s project and how to adapt the methodology for assistants and office managers so that you don’t have to have a big sort-out at the end of each year.
So to start, what exactly is 5s?
According to Wikipedia, 5s is the name of a workplace organisation method that uses a list of five Japanese words; that all start with the letter “S”. The list describes how to organise a workspace for efficiency and effectiveness by identifying and storing the items used, maintaining the area and items, and sustaining the new order.
The five words (translated into English) are:
And this is how you use the method to organise your office and keep it that way!
This is usually the most complicated bit but also the most rewarding.
The ‘sort’ part of the process means you must sort through all your stuff! If your office is out of control, there are things in the cupboards dating back to the 1970s (literally the case when I did this exercise) and folders of paper using up valuable space. Then they need to be CHUCKED AWAY!
Or at least put it into archive storage somewhere away from your office. This part of the process does take quite a bit of time, and you will need to get help from your colleagues, which can be tricky, so my advice would be to have a sorting day led by the office manager or director.
That day should be dedicated to sorting only with lots of bins provided for all of the rubbish bound to appear. The goal of this stage is to get rid of as much stuff as possible. However, there will be stuff left.
This should be organised into two areas – things that will be used every day and the stuff that is used occasionally. Remember to be ruthless!
So by this stage, all of the unnecessary clutter has been removed from the office, and you are left with the things you use regularly. The next exercise is to create a system that enables you to retrieve your items quickly and efficiently.
So store all of your everyday items within easy reach. This could be anything from a stapler to active files to a printer. The point of doing this is to reduce the time you waste getting the things you need to do your job.
All of your files and papers etc., should be labelled, and that label should be easily viewed. Items used less frequently but are still essential should be placed neatly in storage near your workspace. Make sure everything has a location that it returns to after use so that you can keep the area organised at all times.
At this point, I should mention that the 5s approach also works for all electronic items, so make sure you declutter your email system and electronic files too!
This is where you have everything you need in its proper place, and you’ve rid yourself of the rubbish, so the next step is to make everything look nice and clean.
You might not necessarily do this work yourself because at no point in your career should you be responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the office. Still, once you have a clear space, you could ask the cleaning staff to give everything a thorough once-over and invite your colleagues to maintain this standard.
Part of the ‘5 S’ methodology is that by standardising the work environment, habits will form that cement the organisation of the space.
So, in other words, make a habit of quickly sorting through items that clutter up space, such as the incoming mail, magazines and other things left about the office.
Once clutter starts looking out of place, your colleagues will feel uncomfortable leaving the office in a mess (well, they should!)
So now that you have the first three phases completed, the next stage is to do this standard practice across the department.
You may need to create rules for everyone to follow or add the details to an established department guidebook.
However, you instigate the process you aim to standardise the office space so that everyone is keeping it clean, efficient and fit for purpose.
Now comes the hard work.
The office looks lovely, everything has a home, and the waste has been dealt with, but this has to be sustained.
How do we do this?
Well, depending on your colleagues, you could carry on with sorting days, possibly once a month or every six months.
Scheduling time in for them to remove any unnecessary clutter built up over that period might help them make the process a habit.
Alternatively, you could have a monthly inspection of the shared space (cupboards/drawers, etc.) and remove any waste left there.
This may seem a bit harsh, so I suggest you send your colleagues a warning email before you throw any paperwork away.
Regardless of how you sustain the process, you must be in charge of it and a role model for your colleagues to follow.
By instigating the 5 S methodology, you will be surprised at how rewarding it is for you and your colleagues to have a tidy and well-organised space. You will be the organised Assistant.
Productivity should increase, and you will have a nice, clean and clutter-free environment to work in. It is well worth the effort to gain the results.