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Stop being the office slob

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY A recent survey by Adecco asked people what they thought of cleanliness at work. It turns out that how you keep your desk influences what other people think of you. Adecco found that:

-- 57 percent of Americans have judged coworkers on how clean or dirty they keep their work spaces

-- 42 percent of Americans have judged a coworker more negatively if his workspace is dirty

-- 45 percent have judged coworkers more positively if their work spaces are clean

-- 42 percent of Americans think a dirty work space is a result of employees simply being too busy, but

-- 33 percent think messy employees are lazy employees

-- 73 percent of Americans think people are most productive when their work spaces are clean

So, if your coworkers are judging you by your messy cube, you can guarantee that your boss is also. How you keep your work space is a choice, and therefore people tend to think that it is a conscious one.

Now, to be honest, I used to be a bit of a cubical slob. Then I switched from working full time to a part-time job-share situation where I had to share the same work space. I couldn't, in good conscience, leave the desk cluttered with paper for my job-share partner. And I learned something -- it takes about one minute at the end of the day to neatly stack things up and put them away.

Did it make a difference in my performance? Probably. Did it make a difference in how others perceived me? Absolutely. When someone can walk into your office and say, "Hey, do you happen to have a copy of [important document]?" And you can say, "Sure," open one drawer and pull it out, it looks a lot better than, "Ummm, I think so," as you start rifling through piles.

But keeping clean and organized isn't as easy for some people as it is for others. Here are three tips to keep your cube sparkling clean.

1. Don't eat lunch at your desk. I know it's an easy thing to do. You can work while you eat, and get crumbs on your desk, your keyboard, and in your phone. Ranch salad dressing may be delicious, but when it gets on your fingers and then you pick up a file, it's gross. Use the break room, if possible.

2. Use the "one and done" rule. Once you pick up a piece of paper, you need to finish whatever it is asking you to do --  or at least filed appropriately. (Not everything can be accomplished in one day.) Expense reports should be done the day you get back from your trip. Mail should be opened, envelopes tossed (or properly retained if they matter), and dealt with. Don't pick something up and then put it down to be dealt with "later."

3. Scanners are your friends; printers are your enemies. The paper can get overwhelming. If you tend towards untidiness, think before you print because you have to do something with that piece of paper once it has words on it. If you only have a hard copy of something, scan it and save it to your computer network. Keeping files electronically is not only neater, but allows for easier sharing. (Check with your company legal department if there are any concerns about this.)

Keeping a clean work space really can help your career. It's worth the extra couple of minutes a day.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Jeffrey Beall

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