10 Tips to Keep Your Desk Organised for Maximum Productivity

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on May 13, 2010 in Productivity & Organization
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The below post is a guest post from Tom Walker.

It is easy to end up with a desk piled high with papers, coffee cups, family photos, out-of-date Dilbert calendars, tiny mascots and all manner of stuff. The usual excuse for out-of-control desks is that “a messy desk shows a creative mind.” Whilst that may be true, there is significant evidence that a work space that looks like a landfill is extremely counter-productive. A survey conducted in the UK by office products manufacturer Avery demonstrated that over half of the respondents couldn’t see their desks for the junk they kept on them. Consumer psychiatrist Dr David Lewis commented at the time that this was disastrous for productivity levels.

"Research has clearly shown that a messy desktop reduces efficiency and impairs performance,” Lewis said. “It leads to wasted time searching for an essential item, and when this is needed urgently the anxiety aroused by its temporary misplacement further undermines concentration and confidence."

“Being confronted with piles of work to complete not only makes it far harder to stay focused but causes a loss of motivation,” Lewis added. “A cluttered desk acts as a significant barrier to the important psychological process of closure. That is finishing off one job before embarking on another.”

So, it isn’t just the total office slobs that are in danger of driving themselves mad with all the clutter; we could all do well to smarten up our workspaces. These ten tips can help you to organise your desk and cut down time wasted drowning in dross.

  1. Paper management: Any office worker will know that the sheer amount of paper that piles up on the corner of their desk each day can be incredible. To help keep the paper piles under wraps, establish a place for each type of document that lands on your desk. Using stackable letter trays, create an inbox for new documents that you have not yet looked at, and on top of that an incubate box for documents that you cannot deal with yet. Next, use an A-Z accordion file to create an action file, in which you put documents that require action that takes more that two minutes, such as documents for proofreading or forms to fill in. After that, use a small box file to hold folders for active projects, and make sure you only use one folder for each active project to make it easier to find everything. After that, you need somewhere to put documents related to completed projects that may still be useful; a good old fashioned filing cabinet will do best here. Lastly, the fun part; chucking the old stuff out. If a document is not longer useful, why is it still on your desk? If you can, have a shredder and a recycling bin under your desk so you can get rid of old papers right away; you’ll find the process strangely cathartic.
  2. Keep on top of the system: It is easy to start with the best of intentions, but soon let things slide. The important thing with managing your desk is to tidy up a little bit each day, rather than in a four-hour frenzy once every six months. Check your inbox at noon and at the end of the day, and make sure it is empty before you leave. At the end of each week, move your completed projects to the filing cabinet, and review what is in the incubate box to see if it is time to move it to the inbox. At the end of the month, flip through your filing cabinet and throw away anything that you won’t need in future.
  3. Empty your pockets neatly: Aside from paper, there is all manner of other stuff that can clutter up a desk. When you get to work each day, you probably dump your keys, phone, wallet, glasses and other things you have on your person all over your desk. Instead, put them in a drawer. For phones or MP3 players, try plugging in a charger for each device inside the drawer to keep them topped up.
  4. Cut down on the nicknacks: Is there any need for knick-knacks? Some would argue that without them, offices become sterile, unfriendly and stifling. If you must have some on your desk, choose them wisely and try to keep them to a minimum; a photo and a pot plant is more than enough.
  5. Stationery: You don’t need much stationery unless you work as an artist of some sort. Yet, many desks are full of unnecessary pens, pencils, highlighters and so on. Find all the pens and pencils on your desk. If they work, put them in a pot or in a rack in a drawer. If they don’t work, throw them out; it’s simple but effective.
  6. Ban Post-Its: Post-Its were useful once upon a time, but now all they are really good for is annotating sections in paper documents. Sticking Post-Its all over your computer screen to remind you of things is inefficient, as they curl up and fall off, and make your workspace look messy. Instead, put a scribble pad by your phone and write down anything you need to remember there or just use a project management on your computer.
  7. Don’t be seduced by promotional materials: Companies spend thousands every year on promotional swag; brochures, mouse mats, pens, pans, stress balls, toys and more. These things might be quite amusing for a while, but eventually they become a curse, taking up valuable desk space. Go through all of promotional materials you have in your desk. If you need to remember a company, write down their name and contacts on your scribble pad or enter them into your phone. If there is no information in a piece of material that you can’t get from their website, you don’t need it.
  8. Use a proper diary: Choose one place you are going to record dates to remember and stick to it. On many desks you will find a calendar, a desk diary, a pocket diary that came free from a client, last year’s diary, and of course the e-calendar on an employee’s computer too. It gets confusing. Keeping all your dates in one place will help to make your schedule clearer as well as your desk. If you can, do away with paper diaries completely, using a computer calendar such as Outlook or iCal, and synch it to your smartphone.
  9. Think before you print: It’s over a decade before email, PDF and cloud computing has become commonplace, and yet we still cling to the practice of printing documents out and giving them to people. If you are about to print something, stop and think. If you are printing a document to share with someone else, could you email it to them instead, or use web-based software such as Google docs to work on it together online? If you are printing notes for a presentation, could you simply show a slideshow instead and send the notes as an email later? The less paper everyone prints, the less paper will end up smothering your desk.
  10. Eat elsewhere: An overwhelming majority of office workers sit at their desk with a limp sandwich at lunch. The packaging that builds up as a result of this adds more clutter. If your workplace has a cafeteria or a similar area, use it. If not, go out to lunch, or find a park when you can chill out with your sandwiches. If you really can’t tear yourself away from your screen, keep a bin under your desk and put food packaging straight in when you’ve finished.

This guest post was submitted by Tom Walker, a UK based writer who works with an online store specialising in ink cartridges. For more of his writing, visit their blog where he writes about advertising and print media.

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4 Comments

  1. Mitch May 13, 2010 Reply

    First, I knew this had to be written by someone from the UK because of all the spelling differences; Jen would have known better. lol

    Second, I’ve been working on keeping my desk at least somewhat uncluttered. Paper is my enemy because I seem to accumulate so much of it. So what I’ve forced myself to do is only touch paper twice at the most, but to put it in a bin to my side and, when it gets to a certain height, I have to go through it and do something with it.

    Third, I do eat at my desk, but I eat almost everything on paper plates, so I can just throw them away when I’m done, and I use plastic utensils when appropriate as well. Hey, gotta keep working!

  2. Freelancer May 14, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for the valuable information which helps us to keep up our desks clean and tidy.

  3. Leslie A. Joy May 15, 2010 Reply

    Amen about the post its! I stopped using them for that very reason.

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