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Want a More Productive Week? Clean Your Darn Desk!

Has anyone seen that phone number for my interview? I know I printed out a good-looking blog layout but I can’t seem to find it. I know I have that blog idea somewhere in this mess; was it written on a napkin? It’s referenced in a newspaper clipping, but which one? Where’s the thumbdrive I just had?

If you have had any of these thoughts, I’ll bet you have a desk or work area that might need a little bit of improvement. When this becomes an everyday occurrence you may just need a complete makeover … or even a bulldozer.

A messy desk

Image by indi.ca, licensed under Creative Commons

Even though you have organized folders on your computer (well, maybe semi-organized), your desktop or work area tends to gather the detritus of a blogger’s creative life: scraps of paper, napkins, envelopes and just about anything else you can possibly use as an idea collector. Advertisements and articles ripped out of airline magazines and the ever-present jumble of newspaper clippings add to your desk’s adornment.

Soon, your blogging career will be spent with 10% idea collecting, 10% writing and 80% searching your desktop for what you just saw a minute ago. There is an old saying “A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind.” We have to toss that by the wayside and improve our writing environment.

Preparation

If you prepare properly, you will be successful. First, prepare your mind for a clean and uncluttered work environment. Yes, you can do it. You can really work in a shipshape space.

If you have thought about getting a more ergonomically comfortable workspace and chair, this is the time to do it. Consider all kinds of office furniture: desks, chairs, filing cabinets, small tables (for you coffee or power drinks so they don’t spill on the keyboard, laptop or computer) and lamps for your desired lighting.

Now, let’s delve in!

1. Start fresh

Depending on how messy your workspace is, you might need to set aside a full day to start over. If you don’t have time for that, write twice as hard so you can queue posts to publish while you’re clearing your environmental disaster.

Get some empty boxes that can hold all of your stuff. Set some on your left and make this your trash pile. Line the boxes with large green trash bags so once they are full you can immediately deal with them. Mark one of them “Shred.”

The boxes on your right will be everything that is not trash. Mark the boxes “Office Supplies”, “Immediate Use”, “File” and “Computer Stuff.”

Now comes the hardest part of the job, at least emotionally. Pick up one item at a time and put it in one of the boxes or the trash. If you have to think about it for more than half a second, the Trash or File boxes are the best places for it. Continue, one item at a time.

If you have a group of papers, either staple or clip them together, but don’t waste time looking for the paper clips or stapler; stack the loose papers on top of each other in the appropriate box.

Anything that is computer-related, but not attached to your computer, goes into the Computer Stuff box. USB thumb storage sticks, backup drives, wireless mice and keyboards and anything else not physically attached to your computer goes into this box.

Keep working until there is nothing left. The idea here is to get rid of everything from the work area. What you should have left is a bare work area devoid of everything but your computer or laptop.

If you have drawers, go through these also. Empty everything.

2. Clean

If you have a can of compressed air, lightly dust the keyboards while holding them upside down to get rid of all the debris they have collected. If you are good with computers and screwdrivers, take the cover off your computer and blow out the dust; if not consider having someone qualified clean the insides for you after you finish getting your workplace in order. No time for breaks!

Take a damp (not wet) cloth and wipe everything down to get rid of dirt and dust. Don’t forget the inside of the drawers. If you have drawer organizers, clean those too!

Remember to wipe down the computer and display screens, and clean the screens with a dry cloth that has just a light spraying of glass cleaner on it. Do not spray glass cleaner on your display screens.

3. Organize your computing tools

Look at your power wiring and straighten it out. You may wish to take a quick trip to an office supply or electronics store to get some wire and power management covers. If you have to make multiple outlet strips, pick up one that has enough outlets. Tidy up the printer and other peripheral cables to eliminate tangles.

Next, arrange all the items in the Computer Stuff box in your work area so you can comfortably access them. Leave the USB thumb drives in the box—we will take care of them later.

Make sure you keyboard and mouse are in a position where you can comfortably work. If you use a headset, consider using an adhesive hook attached to the side of your monitor or other convenient place for easy and immediate access.

Now create a place for your USB memory sticks. This can be a cup, plastic box or even a compartment in a desk drawer organizer. The idea is to choose a storage area that can be a permanent place where you keep the memory sticks.

Place your backup storage where you just have to power it up and back up your files. Now, create a schedule to back up your data and stick to it. If you can, automate the procedure. Back up your data files (documents, pictures, etc.) separately rather than as a part of a total system backup.

If you need to use the data on a different computer, you will be able to. If your data is embedded in a system backup, you might be in trouble (depending on your backup software) if you have to restore to a different system or even the same system with a different or replacement CPU.

If you use one or more tablets to keep live feeds running, you may want to consider getting a couple of holders for them. There are some nice gooseneck and movable stands that mount to the back edge of a desk that will position them to be easily seen without being in the way or taking up desktop space.

4. Office supplies

A desktop organizer may be good for storing supplies like pencils, pens, paperclips, rulers and other such items. But it can also be a distraction.

Here is a good rule of thumb: if you do not use an item every day, it shouldn’t be on the desktop. Your work surface is exactly what the word says—a work area, not a storage space. Put that stapler away in a drawer where you can easily grab it, unless you use it every day. Even then, keeping it in the drawer might still be a good idea. Use drawer organizers so everything has its own place.

By keeping your work surface clear of all clutter, you encourage your mind to be more productive and make it easier to concentrate on your main task: blogging.

5. Filing and organizing

Next, attack the box that says File. You should have a file cabinet or a desk drawer that is set up with file folders. There are also plastic and cardboard boxes sized perfectly for files. You needn’t spend lots of money on a top-of-the-line filing cabinet.

Go through the papers and file them one at a time. Use a filing system that makes sense to you and enables you to find what you are looking for in a hurry. Do not file every piece in a different folder; use categories that make it easy for you to remember what information is in what folder.

If you have to think about where to file a particular item, you probably don’t need it.

Do not be afraid to use drawer organizers to sort out odd items. Just make sure the drawers do not become a junk drawer, or you may just have to dump the drawer and start this process all over.

6. Urgent items

Now tackle the Immediate Use box. This should contain a relatively small amount of material. Take each piece and process it. If it contains names, phone numbers, or house or email addresses, enter the information in your smartphone and/or email programs—immediately! Then throw it in the Trash or Shred boxes.

If the item contains an idea, open up a document titled Ideas on your computer and enter the idea. Save the document each time you enter new information so you will not lose any of it.

If you run across a picture, scan it into the computer for your blog and then file the picture away. The same goes for newspaper clippings that you will use immediately.

If you can’t immediately use the item you pick up, file it instead.

Keep working until you have gone through everything and everything is in its place. You should now have a clean and organized work area.

7. Wrap up

Before you congratulate yourself and sit back for the rest of the day admiring your handiwork, finish the rest of your job—the trash.

Take the box or bag marked Shred and run it all through the shredder if you have one. If you do not have a document shredder, look up the location of the nearest paper shredding company.

Gather up the trash bags of trash and dump them in the trash can or dumpster. Take a trip to the shredding place if you need to.

Now you can relax and congratulate yourself on a job well done. You might even be inspired to start writing!

Contributing author Alex Ion is the founder and Editor in Chief of Decoist, an interior design and lifestyle magazine which promises to deliver fresh inspiration to even the pickiest. Follow Alex on Twitter for latest trends, and Decoist if you’re looking for some amazing design ideas.

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Comments

  1. Monja says:

    Looking at the picture reminds me very well at my own desktop. It’s really not fun to be not organized. So thanks for the tips, guess I will go ahead and clean up my desktop right now.

  2. I love this post! I spend 30min to an hour every week getting my life in order. I outline what projects are due the upcoming week, what I need to get things done, what personal commitments I have, etc… It makes things run more smoothly, and I find I am ten times less stressed as a result. I think people often forget out getting organized can make your live so much easier, but it really does improve quality of life.

  3. Jaimie says:

    My favorite one is especially number 20 – because TV shows used to be my biggest distraction. (Grey’s Anatomy and SVU still are… but other than that, I’m getting clean and sober from TV). What am I working on today that I can ship in a month? My new website for Split Aces and a video interview series once per week on my blog (which I would love for you to join me on sometime soon)!

    Good stuff as always,

  4. Shan says:

    Good ideas. My desk is uncluttered (or I couldn’t work at ALL) but I’m good at stuffing the drawers until later…and later never comes. lol
    Blessings,
    Shan

  5. Achin Jain says:

    My desk is a big mess..

  6. Scott says:

    Wish I would have learned this 37 yrs ago when I started out. This job requires it every night and it is amazing when organized and ready for morning.

  7. Good topic Alex,

    People don’t notice the stress that a cluttered work area creates until all the “stuff” is gone.

    What’s funny is how fast it all come back.

    Albert Einstein – “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

  8. Derek says:

    I missed paying 1 bill because I couldn’t find the statement on my desk. lol

    The rest of the house is clean and organized well but the office is as dirty as a 5 year old boy’s playroom.

  9. michael says:

    Getting back to basics: a clean desk or workspace, esp. when working on multiple projects, bears repeating. Good tips.

  10. Haiko says:

    Thank you for this blogpost. For usual I prefer a rather messed up desk to work with as an creative. It’s somehow more comfortable. But before every new project it is recommened to clean it up not to lose the overview.

    You may also visit my blog and have a little look-inside my work, it’s called BUCLE.

    Best,
    Haiko

  11. Joel says:

    At a youth conference growing up I heard a speaker once say “If you want to change the world, start by cleaning your bedroom.” His point was basically to start somewhere and when the job is done, you can move on to the next step. When I have piles of work here and there that is unorganized I can get overwhelmed, but once I clean it up, it’s so much easier to conquer the next big thing.

    I will reiterate what is said in the comments above: It’s good to get back to the basics.

  12. Pawan says:

    Clean desk always help me in writing more articles.

  13. Alex,

    You realize that reading your post changed the whole course of my day, don’t you?

    My desk is clear, I found my Whole Foods and Starbucks gift cards and put my
    Waterman pen back in service.

    Thanks.

  14. Before moving online I worked in the insurance industry – lots of people with messy desks.

    Even if you have a “system” for managing the mess; other people perceive it in a negative way. Perception is reality.

    Organized work space is just as important as your white board.

  15. Tim says:

    How true this post is.

    I teach this to all my rockstar coaching clients how many things are keeping us from success.

    Loved it

    Rock on

    Tim

  16. Great topic Alex, and valuable tips too!

    I’m pretty anal about keeping my workspace tidy, but I wasn’t always. I can see without a shadow of a doubt, 10-20 minutes spent tidying my desk saves me at least a couple of hours throughout the day.

  17. Great advice. A few year ago I read a book called Getting Things Done. I was amazed by how much time I had wasted by being disorganized. I’ve had a clean desk policy ever since.

  18. marty says:

    wierd but this actually works.When you have an organized work environment everything works better.Organized outside world ,organized mind

  19. Siegfried says:

    I think it helps a lot to have clean desk – or at lest area around keyboard :> I would love to have huge, wide desk in my flat, but that’s not gonna happen anytime soon :/
    Best Regards

  20. Great Article ,so true if your not organized productivity will always be affected in the long run

  21. Animesh Roy says:

    Absolutely, these are some basic but very important points to remember for every blogger. A clean desk adds a freshness and it also helps to increase focus. Great tips.

  22. yash says:

    Ahh, my desk is not clean enough….

  23. Bryan says:

    As far as all the scraps of paper used to collect ideas, Evernote is your friend. I’ve reduced a lot of clutter by taking pictures of magazine ads, business cards, etc. with my phone. Then I upload the photos to Evernote and add any notes or tags needed to help categorize and remember them for later. Voila! No more scraps of paper!

  24. daniel says:

    Wow! Nice post. I favorite the 5th tip

    Thanks bro

  25. This is very true – my problem is that I get started then distracted and put everything into a big pile again. Also how about an article about cleaning your darn desk top, inbox, computer files etc!

  26. A brilliant and inspiring article just when I need it most, thank you. I recently re-organised and de-cluttered my wardrobe and have experienced such a feeling of peace every morning when I’m getting ready for work. I’ve been procrastinating about starting on the home office but will take this as a sign and get it done!

  27. Ivin says:

    This is really great advice. If I may add to that, I became a lot more productive when I cleared my desktop to one folder in which everything sits and my software and applications dropped to my task bar (where I pinned it).

  28. Uh oh.. This article hits home. Yes, a desk, even mine, can use cleaning… at least some of the time ;)