Is your desktop full of files? Does this cause you problems finding files? Do you feel frustrated and overburdened when looking at such a cluttered desktop? These are common problems which can be improved with a Lean tool named 5S.

There are a few different English definitions of 5S due to its origination Japan. 5S was initially created to eliminate waste and clutter in manufacturing operations. As with many Lean tools, corporations are seeing benefits by utilizing these traditionally industrial tools in today‘s white collar business processes. In this blog, we will discuss the application of 5S to clean-up your virtual clutter.

Sort and Remove: Your computer and desktop should be organized to facilitate a productive working environment. Typically files are kept on our desktop because we need to work on them or we need to file them. From time to time our desktop gets out of control and overrun. To improve this, start by sorting out the items of value and removing the junk. If the files don't require work, relocate them to their respective folder. For now, keep the files that require some work on your desktop and we will address them later. For file storage, consider an online backup tool that is capable of maintaining version history to eliminate the need to keep multiple copies of a single file. Many of these solutions, such as Dropbox, Google Cloud Sync, and SugarSync provide a seamless desktop client that requires little extra effort to maintain backed-up documents with version history.

Shine and Inspect: For the files that are deemed as valuable, do a little clean-up on the naming convention used. Make sure the file name is clear to the purpose of the file. The objective here is general maintenance of the files that are important.

Set Location and Visual Cues: Look a few levels down in your folder structure and think about files and folders you will access most often. These folders should be structured for ease of recognition and file retrieval. The frequently used files should be at top levels. Also, if there are folders that have files that require work, use a different icon for the folder that acts as a visual trigger that there is work in to do in that folder. Folder icons can be changed by right-clicking the folder and choosing properties. For all file folders, keep the folder names short and be consistent. Begin moving those work files from your desktop into these folders. Additionally, for the work activities you identify with these files, log a task into your Outlook task list or an Excel or other application task list. The task list will help you keep track of the activities or work in one logical and organized place. At the end of this step you should have a clean desktop and computer with smart file names and folders with icons that represent where your work resides. Your task list should be up to date referencing all that work that use to exist by having files on your desktop. So we are done, right? Not yet.

System-a-tize: Now things are clean, you have to keep it that way. The best way to do this is to set a standard that you will clean-up your files for 5 minutes at beginning or the end of the day. Certainly, you can use your desktop as a work-in-process location. However, if you think about cleaning up your desktop daily, you will find yourself routinely moving files to their ‘home' location and updating your task list. Spend 5-10 minutes weekly in a deeper level folder doing routine file maintenance of naming convention and task list updates. If needed, set a calendar invite to remind you to do these tasks.

Stay-The-Course: Do this for a week and see how it impacts your work output. You will find that when you remove the clutter, you will be less stressed when you open your computer for the first time each day. Without the clutter and noise you will be focused toward the work that is most important. The task list will keep you in-touch will all of your outstanding work activities. When you see benefits, the processes you have put in-place will be sustained. If you see in a few months that things are starting to degrade back to the old state, start another Sort and Remove effort and follow the process again. Sustainability is the key with 5-S and it is appropriate and expected that full clean-up efforts are needed from time to time.