Einstein believed a cluttered desk was a sign of genius. Yes, he was brilliant.
However, he did not have to face citizens and community leaders with matters
concerning crime waves, natural disasters, or gang shootings to name a
few. On a day-to-day workday, the police
executive has more to worry about than Einstein did.
police chief or sheriff might be a genius in spite of a cluttered desk can lead
to major problems. Cluttered desks lead to loss of a document that can equate
to loss of equipment, loss of your position, or be a matter of life or death.
That document may not be truly lost, merely in the mess on your desk.
is contagious. It encroaches on your desk, computer, shelves, tabletops and
your mind. It is a cause of embarrassment when a citizen or a colleague visits
you. It will bring to mind another cliché, “a cluttered desk is the sign of a
cluttered mind.” Many chiefs admit they do not have room for their morning cup
of coffee; that is, if they can find the mug buried under the mess on the desk.
Perhaps we exaggerate, but clutter is a serious problem for any administrator,
especially a police administrator.
the world’s largest office products company, offers advice from their office
experts, “An uncluttered desk helps you to efficiently manage your time and
create effective work space to get your work done.”
interviews with efficiency experts make it clear, the following benefits result
after de-cluttering a desk: 1) improved work environment, 2) increase
efficiency and workplace appearance, 3) knowledge of where things are and where
to find them, 4) boost in confidence, 5) improves work product, 6) reduce
liability and best of all, 7) reduced stress.
well-staffed large police organization, record keepers maintain the general
files; however, confidential files are under direct control of the chief’s
office. In smaller organizations, the chief often is the keeper of all the
records; therefore, it is imperative that police executives be aware of the
records retention schedule of their state.
federal mandates, each state has a set of similar rules. The schedules cover
every conceivable report or document produced or used in law enforcement. A
chief should have a copy of that schedule front and center on his bulletin
Record or Non-Record
de-cluttering, think of your paperwork in two categories: 1) a record and 2) a
non-record. A “record” is defined as any document, book, paper, photograph,
map, sound recording or other material, regardless of physical form or
characteristic, made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the
transaction of official business. This definition includes those records
created, used and maintained in electronic form.
include extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference,
stacks of publications, identical copies of documents maintained in the same
file, extra copies of printed or processed materials, superseded manuals and
other directives, work papers and drafts of reports or correspondence.
also include blank forms, materials received from other activities that require
no action (if unsure, place them in an official file of record), catalogs,
trade journals, and other publications or papers received from government
agencies, commercial firms or private institutions that require no action and
not part of an action case record, and survey forms.
The De-Cluttering Process
in office management we interviewed offered a variety of recommendations, but
police chiefs, sheriffs and law enforcement managers/supervisors have specific
needs. Using all the recommendations, we
have put together 10 steps of de-cluttering that best apply to a law
alone. Wait for a day off, a weekend, or holiday when no staff is present. This
is your self-improvement. Do this unannounced. Gather the following equipment:
hanging file folders; manila folders; trash bags; empty boxes; an extra small
file cabinet if available; a desk calendar, and a shredder.
everything from your desk except the computer and telephone; place the hard items
(cups, photographs, pencil holders, etc.) into the empty boxes. Remove “stuff”
from your desk drawers, including plaques, coffee mugs, pens, markers, old
files, periodicals, copies of reports, and useless stuff to make room for files
or necessary equipment. Place all paperwork in separate piles on the floor.
quick review of documents, shred all out-of-date or redundant non-records. Now
start your own filing system in one of your empty desk drawers or a lockable
filing cabinet. Each file will be in two parts: the hanging folder will be the
main subject and manila folders for sub-topics, i.e., citizen communications, a
main topic, and sub-topics citizen complaints and/or letters of appreciation.
files should include: staffing/scheduling; mayor/city government communications;
citizen communications, both complaints and letters of appreciation; budget; union
issues; attorney’s general/directives, communications; Chiefs/Sheriffs
Association; inventory; other law-enforcement agency communications; media
contacts; disciplinary actions; and any other subjects you deem necessary for
review of any original reports, return them to the department’s official file
container. Place pencils, pens, and other office supplies in a supply drawer.
What’s left in the boxes is now considered debris. Debris is anything not
useful in your daily work. Exceptions may be photographs of loved ones, but not
daily log for your personal notes, and include phone numbers and contacts.
Choose a form that works for you and keep this handy in a drawer. Place all
appointments on the desk calendar.
pad and create a “to do” list for yourself for the next business day. Make it
sensible. For instance, if it includes a review of a document, place that
document in a “Do Now” folder (one of your file categories or a file just with
“documents to be reviewed”). Note phone calls or contacts to be made, and problems
that need addressing. Do not make this list an impossible feat. Create it on a
daily basis. Projects not finished or addressed should be carried over to the
next day list.
take the boxes of debris home for further sorting. (If you are like me, you will
take them home and place them in the crawl space). To complete the job, place
trash in the garbage bag for removal. Return the shredder and recycle the
shredded paper. Find some furniture polish and shine up that old desk.
place your “to do” list on the desk with your phone, computer, and desk
calendar and look forward to coming into work the next work day. Treat yourself
and feel confident you can take on any problem or project. You have de-cluttered
your desk and somehow it seems to have cleared your mind as well.
process is cathartic and best done on a personal level. We do not advocate a
chief issuing a department-wide order that all desks be de-cluttered (except
for security reasons); however, we do advocate each chief lead by example.
Al Varga is a retired Deputy Chief of Police and is a consultant for Jersey Professional Management.
Marie Wagner specializes in office efficiency and training.