Who created the mess that's on your desk today? You did, of course, but it needn't stay that way. Productivity consultant Cynthia Kyriazis can help you dig out.

Kyriazis is a strategist, coach, and trainer at Productivity Partners Inc. On Sept. 30, she gave these tips to attendees at the Certified Contractors Network's Peak Performance Conference on how they can get their life back in order.

  • Put all your papers in one place--stack your deck--and then go step by step to make decisions. "Clutter is symptomatic of delayed decision making," Kyriazis says.
  • Don't worry about where you stack your papers first; it can be a tray, a box, or whatever else works for you.
  • When you take a paper out of the inbox, don't look at it and then put it back down. That wastes time and causes you to lose focus--focus you need for your priorities, she says. So when you see something, you need to make a decision to move it forward.
  • When you process a document, ask: Do I need to act on this? Do I need to file it? Can I throw it away? Is it something I need to read? Remember AFTR: Act (by either) File, Toss, or Read.
  • Take the Act pile and do something with it. You may need to make a phone call or sign something. Just do it.
  • Create an office road map. The best is a U-shaped system. You have a current section (usually around the computer), a project files section, an area for things in your file drawer, and a "prime realty" spot where you do your work and play with the paper. This relatively clear prime realty spot is where you have face-to-face meetings.
  • Identify your style of paper management. Basically there are three styles:
    • Left-brainers tend to stand up the files and label them based on the names. They use magazine racks and such. Labeling is important for them. 
    • Right-brainers are more about visually grabbing for something. Different colors can make a difference. Placement of the file can make a difference. They lay papers down horizontally in an in-out box. Cubbyholes work well for them.
    • Mixed-brain people employ elements from both sides of their brain.
  • How do you organize things on a common drive? Millennials might reply: "You've got the search function, right?" But remember that others may need structure.
  • Post-it notes are not a time management piece, and they are not a calendar.
  • Filing is about retrieving, not storing.
  • You can have several levels of files, but at the top level create no more than seven broad categories. Examples are topics like administrative, legal, and financial. The seven you pick should be comprehensive enough to include everything that needs filing.
  • Learn to let go of paper. Ask: Is this financial or legal? If so, you might have official reasons do keep it Also ask: Did I know I had it? And: Is this time sensitive?
  • Clean out files once a year.
  • Ultimately, it's all about discipline. Figure out a system that works for you and stick to it.