Cluttered Desk, Cluttered Mind?


A neatly organised workspace telegraphs to others that you are serious about your work, whatever it may be. If you have a cluttered desk, it can be distracting and unsettling, decreasing your productivity. When we are less productive, we are less happy. If you can find papers and emails when you need them, you will get more done throughout the day.

Albert Einstein famously said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” While the Nobel laureate was obviously supporting the benefits of cluttered desks, he likely had no idea that his question would inspire people decades later.

One the one hand, it is a valid point. Research suggests clutter affects more than just our minds. It can be a significant contributing factor to stress. Stress affects us all differently, whether physically, psychologically or emotionally, but all our bodies release hormones when we are under stress. And those hormones can wreak havoc on even the fittest and healthy of beings. Let us face it; no one has ever celebrated stress as a good thing.

A clean, clear, uncluttered mind allows us all to be more creative, more productive and more present to our daily lives, tasks and challenges. It allows us to focus on deeper, more meaningful relationships with our friends, family, children and colleagues. It frees us from perceived obligations and burdens and allows us to follow our dreams and passions.

Does a cluttered desk automatically equal a cluttered mind?

But on the other hand, that cluttered desk can aid creativity. Researchers in the US found in a study of 48 students published last year that people working in a messy room came up with more creative ideas for new uses for ping-pong balls, compared with participants in a tidy room. “Being creative is breaking away from tradition, order and convention, and a disorderly environment seems to help people do just that,” says the study, published in Psychological Science.

One thing is for sure. With many of us now working from home due to COVID-19, our workplace has never before been so important to us. Many of our clients are unhappy that what started out as a new Officeworks workstation and ergonomic chair in a quiet spot in their home, has turned rapidly into a disaster zone. 

So, what can you do to regain control of your cluttered desk and environment? Firstly, get organised! Get to work and begin to clear up the mess on your desk. While this may be time-consuming and cumbersome, it is the only way to get to the bottom of things (your desk in particular!) Get some different coloured folders and organise all of the papers on your desk. Categorise them and put them in the corresponding folder. Get rid of anything that you do not need and recycle them if possible. Shred any papers with sensitive information.  Sort office supplies and get rid of any that you do not use.

And in terms of all that paper, think of going paperless. Paper constantly comes into our lives from all directions. Identify where these unwanted documents are coming from and put a stop to it. You do not really need to print out that PDF just to fill it in and sign it – pay a little more and add the ability to add text and signatures to PDF’s. It may cost a few dollars a year, but the savings in paper and toner (and time!) will more than make up for it.

Keep the tech to a minimum. As a rule of thumb, you should only keep the essential electronics on your desk. These can include your computer, keyboard, modem, phone, etc. As far as other items like cell phone chargers, headphones, and external hard drives go, these should be stored in either the desk drawers or in a nearby container. 

Finally, now you have done the hard yards – keep it that way! Your clean desk will only stay that way if you make an effort to keep it organised. Over time, it may be tempting to simply resort to tossing the day’s mail on top of the desk but remind yourself that a neat workspace means better productivity. This is especially true if you work from home. Do not buy office supplies that you do not need, even if they are on sale! Clean your desk at least once a week to avoid a pileup of clutter. With a little effort and some organisational tools, you can turn your cluttered desk into a wonderfully motivating workspace where you can really get things done!

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