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Clean it Up! Your Cure for a Messy Desk

These days, I’m going through a workspace identity crisis. I have a nice home office, but with an entire room to work with, junk just seems to gravitate there. I briefly abandoned my office for the kitchen table, but not at all surprisingly, it too became a magnet for papers and unfinished craft projects. Most recently, I’ve moved in to the built-in desk we have in our kitchen. It’s the tiniest space I’ve every worked in, but one thing is for sure: it’s by far the cleanest. Why? There’s just no room for coffee mugs and unopened mail to gather, so I’m forced to put them away somewhere that’s more appropriate. This tiny space, plus an afternoon ritual to clear dishes and toys that have found their way to my workspace have really worked for me in the fight against desktop clutter.

messy desk from Flickr user: http://www.flickr.com/photos/allyaubryphotography/

It’s not hard to identify how a messy desk can really mess with your work life. It looks unprofessional, makes it hard to find things, and can bog down your creativity and productivity with mental clutter. In fact, a report from Office Max indicates that an organized workspace can actually give you the mindset and motivation to get to work, making it even more important to clean things up ASAP. So, what can you do if you have the curse of the messy desk?

  • Downsize your space. Obviously, this worked for me, and it’s easy enough for just about anyone to try out. It makes sense: if you have less room to spread out, there’s less opportunity for collecting clutter.
  • Make time for cleaning. Although it’s best to put things away as you go along, we all know that doesn’t always happen. That’s why it’s important to make clutter-busting a daily ritual. At the end of the work day, file papers, throw away trash, and enter stray post it notes into an online notepad. It takes just a few minutes if you make it a regular habit, and it can even help you mark an end to your day.
  • Find a place for everything. If you find that mail is your major downfall (it’s mine), find a place to put it all. Piles of mail used to stack up until I felt like going through them. Now, I quickly weed out the junk, and separate important pieces into what needs to be filed, and what needs action right now, each with their own separate space. Decorative storage trays and drawers can be very helpful here. If you seem to collect too many books on your desktop, clear a drawer or bring a bookshelf where they can live. And by all means, set up a filing cabinet.
  • Think vertically. If you have papers and notes that really need to be within sight, but they’re clogging up your desk, bring in the help of a magnetic board or corkboard where you can hang them up. Better yet, use a whiteboard that can be wiped clean when you’re done with the notes.
  • Pare down to only the essentials. Books you haven’t touched in months, coffee cups from last week, and unfinished projects should be cleared off of your desk top unless you’re planning on using them right away. As in, today. Create a drawer or separate counter space that functions for these items, leaving only what you really need within reach of your work area.
  • Go digital. Gone are the days when you have to drown in paper. Receipts, records, notes, and old documents can all be stored digitally. Chances are good that you have a scanner, put it to good use! As papers come in, decide whether a hard copy is essential. If not, scan it in and file it in the appropriate digital folder to save room in your workspace. Then shred. It feels good.
  • Be careful not to hoard. Do you have two staplers, 40 pens, and 1,000 paper clips? Reassess whether or not these items are truly vital to your daily work life. Really, how many of those pens actually work? Cut down to what you really need to get the job done, get rid of the rest, and for items you can’t bear to part with, find a secondary drawer where you can store it all.

Are you guilty of clutter at work? What’s your plan for cleaning up your messy desk? Let us know in the comments!

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