A businessman from the Philippines once gave me priceless advice. He said, “Clear off your office desk every night before you leave. You’ll be thankful in the morning.” Since then, I have tried to do that very thing every evening before I leave. And I have seen numerous benefits from the practice:
- Less Distraction. A cluttered office desk is filled with potential distractions. Sticky-notes, business cards, file folders, and uncompleted projects all clamor for our attention every moment of the day. Removing them allows our mind to better focus on the most important project of the moment: the one you are working on.
- More Freedom. A clear desk grants freedom to pursue the project of your choosing. Your to-do list is not held captive by the folders on your desk. It is determined by you – even if you are getting direction from someone else.
- New Opportunity. A new day brings new opportunity and the potential to accomplish something great. Walking into an office with yesterday’s work still visible immediately anchors you to the past, tying yesterday’s rope to today’s potential. But a clean desk breeds life, encouragement, and endless possibilities. Even if your new day is going to consist of completing yesterday’s project, starting again or reopening the file offers new opportunity and a new way to see a problem or accomplish a task.
- Increased Reputation. A clean desk indicates a clean and focused mind. It makes you look efficient, accomplished, thorough, and organized. And while nothing can replace a job well done, a clear desk can only help improve your reputation among your co-workers.
Granted, a clear desk comes more naturally to some than others. But I stand as proof that the principle of a clean desk can be applied to any worker’s personality. Here are six steps that I have found particularly helpful in making the transition:
- Reduce your Office Items. The first step in keeping your desk clear is keeping less things on it and around it. Seems simple enough… almost so simple that it often gets overlooked. Take a look around your desk surface. What doesn’t absolutely need to be there? Photos, calendars, books, supplies, and food should all be considered. If it’s not essential, remove it permanently.
- Use Drawers. Using drawers isn’t cheating, it’s smart. It keeps your projects, tools, and supplies at your fingertips while still removing them from your line of sight. In my drawers, I store all of my supplies (pens, stapler, etc.) and my current projects. My current projects are stored in labeled folders in my top drawer for easy access. And only the current project that I’m working on gets to be on my actual desk surface.
- Finish Your Projects. One of the biggest enemies of desk clutter is unfinished projects. Sometimes, they lay on our desks for weeks distracting us and taunting us. The mind clutter of an unfinished project can be crippling at times. If the project can be completed in less than 20 minutes, see it through to completion right away. If the project will take longer, find a drawer to store it in until you are ready to pull it out and work on it again.
- Store Things Digitally. A simple Contacts program and Tasks program can probably remove 95-100% of the notes cluttering your workspace (I have always used Microsoft Outlook). Find one and learn to use it. Those sticky-notes will no longer clutter your screen or distract your mind. And you’ll never lose one again either. I have found this method to be both liberating and essential.
- Limit Computer Distractions. While your computer can be essential in helping to eliminate the clutter from your desk, it can provide distraction of its own. Help your cause by decluttering your computer desktop along with your physical desk. For starters, find a non-distracting wallpaper image and remove all unnecessary icons.
- Set aside 5 minutes. Take the last 5 minutes of every day to clear the surface of your desk. Rest assured that once you get started with the habit, it’ll take far less than 5 minutes. But set that much aside at the beginning. Trust me, your morning you will thank you.
A clear office desk will grant you more focus, peace of mind, and productivity. And that’s good for both you and your company.