Hang on. I’ll give you five minutes to tidy up!
It’s only fair since that’s exactly what I did prior to writing this post. I already knew my desk needed some anti-bacterial love, but I had been putting it off. Some dust bunnies aren’t a reflection on me as a person, right? And I really like to see my stuff… postcards from London and New York, my Voodoo Larry sticker, Cher concert ticket, family photos, festive holiday lights, and oh, the flying monkey hanging above my head!
As I walked through my department to compare my desk to others, I saw similar mementos and tchotchkes. Admittedly, not as many as I have. But my co-workers all shared one thing in common—a nervousness about my purpose and a quick desire to put things away!
Everyone works differently, so first think about the tools you need and what helps you to be the most productive. Now, take a look at these tips.
A lot of clutter? Grab a box and sort using these categories: Keep as Reference, Read and Review Later, and Do Something Now. Check with your IT department for managing electronic documents.
A bit of clutter? Incorporate these guidelines: If you use something daily or hourly, then keep it within reach. If you use something every week, then put it somewhere accessible. If you use something monthly, yearly, or once in a blue moon, then store it or recycle it.
A lot or a little clutter? Establish a clear filing system for both paper and digital files. Purchase organizational tools like shelving and storage containers to bring order to your desk.
Need a visual? Here are some photos of desks and what grades they’ve earned.
Are You a File Person or a Pile Person?
I’m a little of both. When the piles start leaning like the Tower of Pisa, I decide it’s time to file. You may be chuckling about paper files, but the same applies to digital documents as well. How many random files are hanging out on your desktop at the moment? I also have a questionable desire to keep everything I’ve ever written, worked on, or emailed. But, enough about me. What do the experts say?
If you have a system, and it works for you, then don’t sweat it. But one survey of the global workforce found that we spend up to two hours a week looking for lost documents. Maybe filing every third document in the drawer on the left unless it’s Friday is not exactly a tight system. Logistically, clutter can decrease our efficiency, but it can reach beyond that.
Is Your Messy Desk Leading to a Cluttered Mind?
Princeton University’s Neuroscience Institute concluded that our brains like order, so when it encounters disorder, like a cluttered desk, it can drain our cognitive energy and make it more difficult to focus. Our brain is stressing about the mess and can ultimately lead to changes in our behavior, emotions, and decision-making. Next thing you know, you’re eating junk food on the couch and binge-watching Hoarders for the sixth day in a row. That’s an extreme scenario more common at home, but the same can translate to the workplace. The theory goes like this: if you’re stressed and anxious at work then you begin to collect papers, books, files, piles, and everything you’ve ever written and… suddenly I’ve become a test subject!
The good news:In the Princeton study, after removing the clutter, scientists observed people better able to focus and process information which led to an increase in productivity.
One Person’s Mess Is Another Person’s Creative Space
There is research on both sides of this spectrum. Messy desks can promote more free-thinking, creative pursuits. There are no boundaries, unlike a neat and ordered workspace which may force you to conform, play it safe, and box you in. And, if you care about what others may think of your mess consider this. Some researchers have found that your coworkers may see your messy desk and conclude you are less conscientious, more neurotic, and less agreeable. Yikes!
To Clutter or De-Clutter, That Is the Question
Beyond the possible stress, distraction, poor reputation, and plain unhealthy accumulation of bacteria, your desk is a very personal space. The way in which you accessorize it, organize it, and use it is totally up to you. If you’re in a more detail-oriented profession, you probably do better in a more organized space which probably also reflects aspects of your personality. If you’re in a more creative field, you may be comfortable in a bit of inspiring chaos. As long as the state of your desk is not hindering your ability to meet deadlines and complete projects, then you’re good to follow your spirit.
And here at Pearl, honoring the spirit of our employees helps us all feel more authentic and ready to service our clients and customers as real people too.
What’s the feng shui of your workspace? Is it helping or hindering your workday or your true self?