A few years ago, when I worked from home, I used to be about as organised as a moth in a hurricane. My desk was so cluttered that I never knew where to find anything, and the desktop on my computer was in a similar mess, with files scattered all over and, I could swear, a circular stain from a coffee cup. I had a sticky note to remind me where I'd stuck another sticky note with an important phone number on, and paper avalanches were an occupational hazard. In short I was the Oscar Madison of the home office but I was quite happy with my 'system' of organised chaos.

Then I got a job where organisational skills were an essential part of the specification. I had said at the interview that my own skills in that area were pretty good, although had the interviewer asked for hard evidence of this I would have been shown the door. I know this was a little white lie, but I considered it justified. I mean, how difficult could it be to stay organised at work?

It was quite difficult actually. I soon found myself out of my depth as I had to use unfamiliar functions in familiar applications that I had never bothered taking advantage of while working from home (I was the king of scribbling on scraps of paper and then losing them, or being unable to remember to what the scribbles referred).

Everything had to be filed correctly instead of just left on the desktop, and woe-betide me if I couldn't come up with a file or a phone number in the blink of an eye. After all, a busy office environment is fast-paced and frantic. Slowing things down by rooting for a document among sheaves of paper on the desk, like a pig after truffles, would not project a favourable image among colleagues and bosses. However I soldiered on and gradually I did develop good organisational skills that stand me in good stead to this day.

Clutter-free desks were the first thing I noticed when I started that new job, and this is the early warning system that tells whether someone does or does not possess decent organisational skills. A well-kept desk looks far more professional, but it also ensures that you have ample workspace. This is important because, even though we live in the computer age, there are still occasions when paper documents, books or charts have to be referred to, and having the space to study them saves on time and temper. So, apart from the practicalities, a tidy desk immediately presents a positive visual image, just as a smart suit does.

Of course, to keep the desk space clear calls for the efficient storage of paper items, the major cause of deskbound clutter. The best way to keep paper down to a minimum is to ensure that files and documents are returned to their correct storage places as soon as they are finished with. Allowing a pile of papers to build up is bad practice, and, just like washing dishes, the higher the pile becomes, the less inclined a person is to deal with it.

Electronic files are far easier to deal with storage-wise, as they don't take up any space other than on your computer, and it has the capacity to store a vast number of them. However, this sheer volume of files can mean that a sound system of retrieval must be in place or you are faced with an electronic equivalent of the proverb that involves a sewing implement and a pile of dried grass.

One problem I caused myself was to name files with stand-alone abbreviations that gave no real clue to the contents. Always put at least a part of a word in so that the file will be recognised, although file names should also be kept quite short to make them easier to read. In my bad old days I would have named a file belonging to Fred Flintstone as simply FF, when Fflint would have been a far more recognisable name. And if I organised the files by date too (Fflint240410) then Fred's files would all be in one place and sorted by date.

Good organisational skills are largely based on adopting a simple regimen of getting into the right habits sticking to them. There are many more ways of keeping track of your files than those mentioned above and having good organisational skills is an increasingly common specification on application forms, so it is a skill that is definitely worth getting to grips with. Then you could be transformed into a born-again organiser, like me.