A productivity crisis is strangling offices around the nation and if your email inbox is bulging, your desk is a disaster and you're reading this at work, it probably involves you.
Efficiency coach Cyril Peupion wants you to know, however, that it's not your fault - most of us have never actually been taught how to work.
This strange-but-true observation is the starting point for Peupion's approach to replacing bad work habits with effective ones.
Central to Peupion's philosophy is that workers, from office junior to chief executive, are trapped by the inefficient way in which they handle today's information tsunami - endless handwritten lists, reading piles, and thousands of emails kept "just in case".
"When I ask people why they chose this 'information management system', the most common answer is 'trial and error'," Peupion says.
"I then ask if this is the best system for them and I hear, 'I don't know, I have never been shown how to do this'."
Peupion says white-collar workers typically spend just 15 per cent of their time on value-adding work, while non-productive distractions eat up the rest.
"Most people are simply drowning in the simple things that have a huge impact on their performance."
His solution, outlined in a book, Work Smarter: Live Better, is a two-phase plan.
First, build a foundation of personal efficiency. Second, build a habit of personal effectiveness.
He prescribes a simple but demanding strategy:
De-clutter: desk, inbox, files (hard and soft) and mind are all cleared in a radical "purge and prune".
Decide between "must read" and "nice to read". Ditch the "nice".
Organise: introduce a system that eliminates the "three key time-wasters" - procrastination, lack of focus and ineffective meetings.
Peupion says Microsoft Outlook, or similar software, is a powerful efficiency tool when email, tasks and calendar are used together.
Focus: schedule your day to concentrate on the two or three things that make the biggest contribution to job effectiveness.
This can create two extra hours a day to focus on key tasks.
Building personal efficiency starts at the desk, says Peupion.
"If you are messy, whether you want to or not, you will waste time," he says.
One survey found the average white-collar worker spends six weeks a year searching through emails and files for information they already have.
Email is another big target. Email should be checked only a few times a day, with a rigorous "one touch, one decision" rule to deal with each item at the time, and the inbox should be empty at the end of each day.
Peupion's top tips for efficiency and effectiveness:
■ Purge and prune all files. If you don't absolutely need it, ditch it.
■ Clear your inbox. It's not a filing system or a bin.
■ Don't "butterfly" between emails. Use a "one touch, one decision" rule.
■ Clear your desk. A messy desk is a time-wasting distraction.
■ Plan, be proactive and decide what you will, and won't, focus on.
Work Smarter: Live Better by Cyril Peupion is published by Peupion Pty Ltd, rrp $29.95 AAP