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Commentary: Get ‘squared away’ during National Clean Off Your Desk Day

Staff Sgt. Noelle Altman has to keep things organized for her job as the executive for the 72nd Air Base Wing Command Chief, even though it is already in her nature to do so. She even organizes as a way to let off steam!

Staff Sgt. Noelle Altman has to keep things organized for her job as the executive for the 72nd Air Base Wing Command Chief, even though it is already in her nature to do so. She even organizes as a way to let off steam!


Like many Tinker Air Force Base personnel, the first weeks after the winter holiday have created a less than tidy desktop. Having hit the editorial road at a hard sprint in order to meet tight deadlines for The Tinker Take Off, the telltale signs of my story creation seem to reproach me from every direction.

Notebooks are carelessly stuffed into folders while sticky notes dot my wall. An Associated Press Stylebook seems forlornly tossed near a phone and five cans of sparkling water await a proper destination.

Considering it is “National Clean Off Your Desk Day” on Jan. 14, it is clear to this newspaper’s staff writer that it’s time to  join Team Tinker in getting “squared away” by creating a clutter-free and well-organized workplace.

Personnel at Tinker AFB have their own workstyles and work spaces. Some proudly claim they have less stress and increased productivity with a clean and functional work area, while others’ seemingly sloppy organizational style causes neatness savants to ponder if there is actually a desk underneath the piles of papers, folders and more.

While no one seems to know exactly how, where or when National Clean Off Your Desk Day was created, the made-up holiday is, nevertheless, celebrated on the second Monday each January. And, if cleaning isn’t your bag, just remember it has been reported that a desk can have nearly 400 times the amount of bacteria as a toilet seat.

Some of the recommendations for “National Clean Off Your Desk Day” include cleaning out clutter in drawers, disinfecting surfaces daily, organizing and reviewing files regularly, labeling folders and filing systems with names and dates, saving and scanning documents when possible, keeping distractions off physical or electronic desktops or work areas and tidying your desk area before leaving each day.

In search of an exemplary Airman at Tinker AFB who readily demonstrates the best in proper office hygiene, sources pointed me in the direction of Staff Sgt. Noelle Altman. Her work area readily reflects her ongoing duel with dust and germs, her finesse for filing and her well-honed decluttering skills.

Altman’s talent for organization serves her well in her job as the executive assistant for Chief Master Sgt. Melissa Erb, the command chief for the 72nd Air Base Wing at Tinker AFB. Her job is to help the command chief stay on target by getting her to meetings on time and with the materials she needs. Additional duties include setting up the Wing’s promotional ceremonies, quarterly awards and coordinating the Enlisted Force Distribution Panels so that commanders can promote deserving Airmen.

“In my last job, I was doing medical deployments and it was a high-stress job because you’re trying to clear 250 to 300 Airmen within a week and they all have different medical conditions,” Altman said.

Atman said she had already cycled through all the positions open in public health and instead of getting a permanent change of station; she decided to apply for a new challenge that would sharpen her organizational skills and began working for Erb in April 2018.

“When I was in public health, I was the supply person and one of my favorite things to do was organize supplies,” she said. “Everything got a label and had a spot (location), but when I came here nothing was organized or labeled. Now, everything has its place and we can easily find what’s needed.”

An admitted “sticky-note person,” Altman’s day at work begins with checking Erb’s calendar so that the command chief can quickly review it as needed.

“But her calendar can change fast,” Altman said. “If 72nd ABW Commander Col. Kenyon Bell needs her for something, I make sure the command chief knows who, what, when, where and why she needs to go. If something changes on his calendar, I know I will need to move stuff around to make sure Chief Master Sgt. Erb can be there as well.”

Since Altman comes from a public health background, she said she also knows another rule of the cleaning holiday — to use an antibacterial spray and to wipe down surfaces with germ-killing products, plus a dispenser of hand sanitizer stands directly beside a candy jar with individually wrapped treats at the front of her desk area.

Altman also labels paper folders and uses three folders when needed for daily tasks that are color coordinated. Her green folder means she can get something done daily, the orange folder has items that are pending and the red folder signifies “urgent” content.

She said having your online folders organized is just as important as the paper files, especially when it comes to National Clean Off Your Desk Day.

The holiday’s tidiness experts also recommend that personnel eat in a kitchen or breakroom area, so that your desktop or work area doesn’t collect crumbs as you make three piles labeled “keep,” “toss” and “move” and get the jump on the neat-freak holiday.

Lost productivity due to trying to locate items is a real problem for some of Tinker AFB’s less orderly personnel. Since this journalist needs to move quickly to capture the news in a timely and accurate manner, I’ve started my piles already.

And, don’t forget to clean your keyboard; one of the top five most contaminated places in offices. Hand sanitizer, anyone?