One positive attribute of the Covid pandemic is that the loss of employment or the need to work from home has revealed the extent of clutter in our homes and offices.  Often, when we take action to declutter our environment, good things come into the vacant space.  In this month’s SkillBites Show, I interviewed Barbara Hemphill, founder of Productive Environment Institute, to learn some tips on how to declutter and to maintain a clean environment.

Barbara has been featured on national media platforms such as Good Morning America, The Today Show and CNN Nightly News, and she has been showcased in publications such as USA Today and the New York Times.  Often referred to as the “Paper Tiger Lady” because of her bestselling book, Taming the Paper Tiger, her most recent book is Less Clutter More Life. 

Barbara’s business is built on the four simple words:  Clutter is postponed decisions.  Too often, we don’t know what to do with a paper, email, business card or other piece of content, so we keep a stack of such content on our desk, on a filing cabinet, in our computer, on the floor or other place in our office, where we can figure it out later.  The more information we hold on to, the more cluttered and messy the office gets and the more daunting it is to go through it all.

Barbara has taken companies through “productivity parties”, where she teaches employees to go through all the stacks, files and digital content, and quickly decide whether each item should be:

  • Trashed, recycled or shredded;
  • Filed
  • Kept somewhere but not in the person’s office (and put in a ‘staging’ area)
  • Offered up for grabs because the person doesn’t need it but someone else might.

To help people decide whether something should be kept or not, she suggests they ask the question “Does this help me accomplish my work or enjoy my life?” If the answer is no, then it should be gotten rid of.  If it is still hard to decide, another question to ask is “What would be the worst thing that could happen if I tossed the information and later find I need it?”  If the consequence would be bad, you can keep the information in a reference file or archive for a period of time, say 6 months or a year, and if you haven’t had any use for it, then you can toss it. You can turn your “filing system” into a “finding system” by creating a file index.  A file index is to managing your papers what a chart of accounts is to managing your money.  

For everything you keep, there is a price, in terms of time, space, money and energy.  You have to decide whether it is worth the price.  Often, it is easier to make these decisions when you have someone helping you, such as an accountability partner.

Barbara closed the interview with the recommendation that we ask ourselves two questions:

  1. What is one thing that has to happen to make me happy with my progress?
  2. What is one action I can take to help me make that happen, and when will I take that action?

Barbara advised that she has a free webinar that discusses her system for organizing one’s home and office, and additional resources are available at, where you can also find Certified Productive Environment Specialists (CPES) to help you in your organizing efforts.  

Barbara can be reached by email at or via her website,