Go From Busy to Productive in 3 Easy Steps


Linda walks through the doors of the hotel and into the conference. Bob greets her and asks, “How’s business?”

“Busy,” she says proudly.

“Well, that’s a good problem to have,” Bob says. But, now, unknown to Linda, he’s thinking he needs to cultivate relationships with other writers. Writers who aren’t too busy to devote the time and attention it takes to do a top-notch job when he needs help.

How often do you answer, “Busy,” or something similar?

I used to do it myself.

We do it because it’s an easy answer and it shows we’re in high demand, BUT it could be backfiring on us.

It could be sending the wrong signal.

Saying business is “busy” is different from saying it’s “good.” Try saying, “I’ve been getting great results for my clients. Business is good.” You’ll trigger a very different response!

When you tell people how busy you are, they may be hesitant to give you referrals. If they’re clients, they may worry about giving you more work, thinking you won’t be able to give their job the attention it deserves.

That’s NOT a message I intend to send!

But, let’s take this even deeper …

Are you telling yourself that you’re too busy?

What does “busy” LOOK like?

In my world, “busy” looks like a cluttered desk covered with piles of notes for projects, bills to be paid, records to be filed, business cards I’ve collected from various events, and so on.

I’ve always been able to find items I need on my cluttered desk. I know which of the many piles to look in. But it does take me some time to sift through those piled-up papers looking for exactly what I’m after.

But just as saying, “I’m busy,” may be sending someone else a message that I don’t mean to send, my cluttered desk was sending a “busy” message too — it was making my subconscious brain shout, “NO MORE!”

My clutter was pushing my brain into data and sensory overload … making me distracted and less productive when I sat down to write.

I was finding it harder to concentrate at my desk. I started taking my work to other places around the house, but that took me away from my notes and files … yet I had to get away from all that “busy-ness.”

So I cleared off my desk, found a space for everything, and now I’m making better use of my time and am much more productive.

If it worked for me, it can work for you, too.

So, here we go …

3 Steps to a More Productive, More Profitable Workspace

1. Clean it up by ruthlessly throwing out what you don’t need.

If you’re like me, you collect promotional pens that people give out at trade shows and conventions. We’re writers, but even the most prolific writer doesn’t need as many as I discovered tucked away in, on, and around my desk when I cleaned it up. (Confession: I had 18 just from the last wine industry trade show I attended.) I kept the best ones and tossed the rest.

Speaking of trade shows and conventions, what are you doing with all the business cards you collect? When I cleaned up my desk, I counted 104 that had been taking up room. Really.

I recommend using a card scanner to digitally store all that contact info. The one I found is CardMunch, a LinkedIn app for Apple mobile devices. You take a photo of the card, and the app does all the rest. It took me about 30 minutes to remove the claustrophobic clutter of all those business cards.

Next, I gathered up the notes and loose papers and went through those. Some I tossed. I put those that I still needed to keep in one consolidated pile. Bills to pay went in their own pile.

Now is a good time to actually clean your desk, too. Mine was pretty dirty underneath all the “stuff.”

So to recap, your “clean it up” action steps are:

  • Toss out (or give away) excessive office supplies.

  • Scan business cards and keep contact info in a digital format.

  • Go through loose papers and notes to decide which are “must keep.” Throw the rest away. (Consider scanning the “must keep” notes into Evernote. They’ll be searchable by text — even if the text is handwritten — which will make them easier to use, and you’ll eliminate that clutter, too.)

  • Clean the dust, dirt, and grime off your desk.

2. Organize the stuff you need so it’s easy to get to and use.

Think about an airplane … Space is limited, so there’s a designated place for everything, and everything must be in its place.

Approach your desk with the same mindset.

I like organizing paper into file folders — nice, tidy compartments for ideas.

I have four retainer clients that I do work for every month. I keep hanging file folders with notes on their projects in a portable file box next to my desk. It’s handy when I want to take my laptop to the deck and work in the fresh air — I just grab the folder I need and go.

Notes on ideas for prospects — those who I’d like to work with but who are still in the “developing a relationship” stage — go into pink file folders.

Proposals that are awaiting final approval are in green.

Notes on active projects for clients are in bright orange folders.

These various file folders now reside within easy reach in a vertical file holder on the corner of my desk. It’s still the pile concept, but much more conducive to productive work.

The pens I kept (you knew I couldn’t throw away my entire collection!) are stashed in holders and in my desk drawer. Bills to pay have their own vertical file system.

It may seem simple — because it is! The trick is in actually doing it … and then to keep doing it.

Your “organize it” action steps are:

  • Give everything its own designated space.

  • Put things in their place.

3. Develop a strategy to keep it clean.

I confess that I’ve done this clean sweep before, and my desk never seemed to remain clean for long. I have a new strategy for that, too …

Figure out what the “rent” for each square foot of your desk is. We’ll use an example of $60,000 annual revenue, which equates to $5,000 per month. And we’ll use my desk dimensions of 2.25 ft. x 4.25 ft., which is about 9.5 sq. ft. So using these specifications, every square foot of desk space is worth $523 each month.

If it’s taking up $523 worth of space, it better be worth it!

Assigning concrete value to my workspace has been incredibly empowering. You can use my “value per square foot” strategy, or come up with one of your own. You need something that will motivate you to keep your desk the clean productive space that you’ve now made it.

I know this approach is somewhat controversial, and you might be resistant to the idea of keeping a clean desk. You might be convinced that you thrive in “creative chaos.” But a clean desk is working for me, and it just might work for you, too.

You owe it to yourself, your business, and your bank account to try it for a few weeks. If you’re more productive, great! If not, you can (easily) let the clutter accumulate again.

But at the very least, stop telling people (and yourself) how “busy” you are! Instead, tell everyone “business is good” — and mean it.

I’d love to hear how you’re going to put this strategy to work. Leave me a comment below!


Michele Peterson

Michele Peterson is a direct response web copywriter, online marketing strategist, speaker, and coach. She draws on 20+ years of sales and marketing experience to help her clients tell their stories, engage their audience, and make more money. On a personal note, she’s the wife of a winemaker, baseball mom, back pain survivor, SF Giants fan, former cheerleader, gardener, master networker, tech geek, avid reader, and fan of all things Disney.


  • Great article Michele! I’m going to try out that app for all the business cards piled on my desk from the last two events I attended. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  • Thanks for this helpful article, Michelle – very timely for me! Been realizing the last few days that I need to move away from the busy mindset, and this is really helpful. So, ‘business is good!’ :-), and I’ve just downloaded Card Munch to at least start getting rid of those business cards!

  • Oh, and I forgot to say, I actually upload scanned notes directly into my client relationship manager (I use Capsule CRM) so they’re filed with everything else about that particular client/prospect/lead. There’s a small monthly fee (I think about $12) if you upload much data, and this approach has taken me over the limit for free use, but it’s well worth it to me.

  • Thanks for the tip about Card Munch. I’ve been looking for a good one this year as I’ve attended quite a few conferences this year, but hadn’t found one I liked. This one looks like it’ll fit the bill. Thanks!

  • Hi Michele,
    Great mindset tip … not just for business, but personally as well.
    Cheers and thanks!
    ps: have you been peeking at my desk again? I’m now instituting a pen clearout day. Tomorrow I’ll start on the 17 million scaps of paper I have lying around! 🙂

    • Apparently you, me, and Michele need Pen Valets to deal with our collections Jim. 🙂 I try to do this periodically, so that I don’t end up with a mountain of pens.

      That said, I’m still going through the Marriott pens I got from AWAI’s Bootcamp 2011, so I made sure not to take many home this year. 😀

      • Me, too, Julia! But I really like the pens AWAI has given away the last two years. They’re “keepers” for me!

    • Ha Ha! I haven’t been spying on you lately, Jim! Isn’t it great that we writers are so alike!?! Get to work on the paper … you’ll feel so much better!

  • Just figured out that I’m one of a small percentage of CardMunch users that will have problems with the app (spoke to the LinkedIn Support staff about this). So while they’re busy working on a fix (it happens to some, but not all iPhone iOS 7 users, for some strange reason), I’m using Evernote’s Hello app. I’m already a Premium user, so that gets me some additional features, however the regular features are just as good. I’m happy that it’s synced to LinkedIn, so it can connect me with people I’m already connected with.

    Just spent about 15 minutes snapping pics of my latest batch of biz cards, and I’ll do the rest this afternoon. LOVE this idea Michele, thanks!

    • Sorry to hear about your trouble with the app, Julia! But thanks for the tip on the alternate way to deal with cards. Awesome! Write on! 🙂

  • Fantastic article, Michelle! I never thought of putting a “rental” value on my desk before. Great motivator! And digitizing the business cards I’ve collected is also a new idea. (Duh!)

    However, I’m an Android user. I just googled “android business card app” and came up with this review of 8 apps … some for Android, some for iPhone. I’ll choose one of these.


    Thanks, Michelle!

  • Michele,
    I set aside some time today to “clean sweep” my workspace, and your article sparked some new ideas. Thank-you for writing these tips. Personally, I use the CamCard app for capturing business cards. Everyone I’ve recommended it to has been able to use it, on every type of phone, (and it works very well to split cards into different categories).

    I also “borrowed” my wife’s mechanical timer, from our kitchen, to put on my desk after “operation clean sweep”, for building better dedicated writing habits. Then, I realized, I should have better cleaning habits too…why not set the timer for 15 minutes of “clean sweep” every day?

    Q: What’s your favorite timer app? I’ve tried a few, but most of them get interrupted by an incoming call or message.

    All the Best,

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