You’ve heard the saying a hundred times: “tidy desk, tidy mind”. It makes sense in terms of outward appearances. Yes, your coworkers and, gasp, boss are more inclined to find you productive and efficient based on the state of your desk or office space. Stereotypical? Probably. We’ve all seen chaotic workplaces that are inhabited by efficient and effective employees but that, according to the stereotype, is the exception rather than the rule.
Closer to home, I operate better with a clean workspace—both at my day job and at home. You might even say that I’m anal about it. My coffee mug must have a paper towel or a coaster beneath it (although the rings on my wood desk suggest that I have occasionally been remiss). My keyboard and screen have to be properly aligned. The space unoccupied by a necessary piece of electronic equipment must be clear (except for the coffee mug). No, I repeat NO, eating in the study.
Okay, so I am anal. But I’m also productive. Sitting at a clean desk without any distractions in front of me have lead to the creative of dozens of novel manuscripts and three times that many short stories. Now, to just find a publisher for these babies…but that’s another story.
Here are my tips for keeping a tidy desk or office.
Don’t store anything on your workspace: Your desk is for working or writing. Don’t keep boxes or piles of papers on it. Don’t stack your file folders of research on it, except for the research you need for the project at hand. Store what you’re not working on in the desk drawer or filing cabinet. Opening the drawer or getting up out of your seat will be a mental break between tasks.
Keep only what you need in front of you: What you’re working on at the moment takes precedence over everything else. Keep those files or papers out on your desk for ease of reference. If you have to get up more than once to retrieve an item you need for your current work project, you’re more likely to be distracted. This habit also eliminates the chances of misplacing or misfiling a document.
Don’t print!: Much of what we do at work or at home is completed on computer yet the paper seems to still abound. So much of what we print isn’t the “final” product but a draft. With more than one printed draft in hand, it can be difficult to know which is the latest and which we’ve already looked over. Decrease the chances of re-doing your revisions by printing only what is necessary and shredding what is no longer needed. Before you print: try asking yourself if you need a hard copy of the document at that moment. If not, don’t print it.
Take a minute: At the end of the day or the end of a project, take a minute or two to re-file your work and tidy up your desk. Make it a habit to leave your desk clear at the end of the day. So much the better to start the next day off!