Is a Clean Desktop Worth $1,000?

OVER the past six years, says Jeffrey J. Mayer, ``hundreds and hundreds'' of executive clients have paid him $1,000 to spend four hours in their offices teaching them time-saving techniques. Mr. Mayer, a time-management consultant, is author of a new book, ``If you haven't got the time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?'' The book comes with a money-back guarantee that his system will save corporate America up to an hour a day in which to ``do it right.''

His primary recommendation is - brace yourself - to use your desktop as a workspace and your desk filing drawer as filing space. Commonly, desktops are piled with papers that should be discarded while the few important ones are lost in the stack, he says. As for filing drawers, Mayer writes, ``From the things I've found, you would think some people were running a dime store, a museum, or an antique warehouse instead of a business.''

A clear desk, proper file drawer, and master list of pending work will save executives 30 seconds out of every five minutes in time that would have been spent looking for something or wasted in other ways, he says.

``I was somewhat discouraged initially that your recommendations were so straightforward,'' a senior vice president wrote to Mayer six months after starting to use his techniques. ``Instead, I have concluded that the value in your approach is directly related to the fact that your advice is so practical and easy to implement.''

Sure it's practical and easy for a senior vice president to implement this advice: ``If you think a meeting will be a waste of your time, don't go.'' But that sounds risky for those clinging to lower rungs of the corporate ladder.

Some of his ideas may not work for everyone, Mayer agrees, but they may suggest an approach for coping with work while pleasing the boss. ``There's nothing wrong with saying, `You just gave me three projects to do by tomorrow. Which do you want first?' ''

Mayer, a Chicago native with degrees in economics and finance from the University of Miami, says he was always well-organized as a kid because his mother would tell him, ``Jeffrey, if you finish your work you can go out and play.''

Notes Mayer: ``The book, at $17.95, is a whole lot less expensive than I am.'' Since published April 1 by Simon and Schuster, it has sold more than 100,000 copies, Mayer says. The audiocassette rights have been picked up by the hard-working Japanese. After hearing his tape, perhaps they will have time to play, too.

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