Work + Growth

Cluttered Desk, Cluttered Mind


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  • A cluttered desk negatively affects your productivity
  • Get your desk in order by clearing it off and adding necessary things back in their own neat sections
  • Keep your desk neat by putting things only where they belong and tidying your desk on a weekly basis

Trying to get work done amid clutter is difficult.

You put a document down on your desk and can’t find it 20 minutes later. A stack of books slides off the edge of your desk, breaking your concentration with a loud thump. A senior attorney asks you a question about something and has to stand there impatiently waiting as you frantically search the precariously leaning piles on your desk for the file she’s referencing.

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone, and your productivity and efficiency are likely suffering from your disorganization. This can be rectified, though, and you can handle it more quickly than you think. Moreover, you can keep your desk—and by extension, your mind—organized and ready for work without wasting energy among the clutter. You just need to get started.

Start with a Clean Slate

The first thing you need to do is clear your desk entirely. Starting with a clean slate is easier and more efficient than moving the clutter around, so put everything except your computer and phone on the floor, on your chair, or on any other available surface in your office. Clean the surface so that it is free of dust and crumbs. Put little things like paper clips and post-it notes in your desk drawer.

Decide What Goes Where

Next, methodically go through your paperwork and decide what goes where: There are probably things that can go straight to the trash, papers that fall under “to do,” things that belong in someone else’s office, and documents (e.g., closing books) that you need close at hand. Determine what is what and add them back to your desk in neat piles.

Look at where you keep your books, closing binders, agreements, and other documents. Have you been thoughtful in how you organize and store these materials, and does it make your work easier or harder? How might you change how they’re organized so they have a positive impact on your workflow?

Do this right away; they will likely continue to sit there, taking up space, if you don’t. Books, folders, and files that you need should be neatly stacked with or next to the documents you need to keep. Consider keeping a physical inbox on your desk for the to-do pile to be as neat as possible and create a bit of separation from other documents on your desk. Wherever you decide to place things, make sure there is some empty work space right in front of your computer so that you can spread documents out or move a laptop forward. Clean space is conducive to productivity.

Stay Organized

You can easily ensure that your desk stays organized by taking the radical step to…simply continue putting things where they belong, and in no other place. Don’t let things that don’t belong on your desk pile up and spread out. Use your trashcan. And don’t print things out unless you really must. Do a mini clean and organize weekly if you need to, but don’t let things get so out of hand that you have to take time out of your busy schedule to clear your entire desk and start over once again.

What's Next

After you’ve cleaned and re-ordered your desk, commit to a weekly tidying session. After three weeks, are you still able to stay organized? Do you feel more productive with a neater desk?