If you’ve been having a hard time getting things done at work, take a look around you. Is your work space a mess? In addition to being visually unpleasing, having a disorganized desk can make it harder for you to focus and process information, according to research published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Clutter competes for your attention, and it creates stress, anxiety, and guilt. In other words, it’s got to go.
But when you’re staring down a giant mess, taking care of it can seem impossible. Fortunately, getting and keeping your desk organized isn’t the insurmountable task it might appear to be at first glance. As long as you’re willing to be thorough and steadfast, keeping your desk organized is actually pretty straightforward—and more importantly, well worth it in the long run. Start with these 20 easy tips for keeping your desk organized and you’ll enjoy more physical space, a clearer mind, and greater productivity in no time. And for more ways to tidy up, master the 40 Genius Ways to Be More Organized After 40.
Create Personal Space
There are things you bring to work every day that need to go somewhere. However, rather than chucking your purse, wallet, phone, or keys on your desk—to only get in the way all day—designate a specific area for those necessary, but often clutter-promoting objects. Better yet, whenever possible, keep your phone out of sight and you’ll reduce the amount of distraction you experience at your desk. And for more ways to improve your life, check out these 30 Genius Tricks that Will Make Your Life Easier.
Organize Your Computer Desktop, Too
You could have an absolutely spotless, barren desk that would make the strictest minimalist proud, but if your computer screen is a nightmare maze of icons and unsorted files, there’s still work to be done. Digital messes count as clutter too, and can be surprisingly distracting when you’re trying to focus. At least once a week, clean up any stray files on your desktop, and nestle folders within other folders if you need to make your home screen more streamlined. And for more ways to turn your computer into an organizational force, discover the Best Computer Desktop Backgrounds for Maximizing Your Productivity.
Do a Purge
It probably goes without saying, but if you want to organize your desk, you’re going to need to do a purge. Go through every item in your desk and ask yourself if you really need it. Keep the stuff you do; toss the stuff you don’t. And be honest: you’re only making things worse for yourself by claiming that takeout menu from a now-closed restaurant is “essential.” Do it right the first time and you’ll have made significant progress towards a more calm-inducing desk.
Do a Daily Wipe Down
At the end of every day, take the time to wipe down your desk before you head out. Doing this will make you put away anything you’ve left on your desktop, meaning you’ll come to work each morning with a clean desk and a fresh start.
Work on One Thing at a Time
You might think you’re aces at multitasking, but the truth of the matter is that multitasking is almost cognitively impossible. Instead of trying and failing, focus your attention on a single task at a time. To further minimize clutter, make the one thing you’re working on the only thing that gets to occupy space on your desk—everything else should be put away. And if you’re a hopeless multitasker, you should know these 20 Ways You’re Making Your Life Way Harder Than It Needs to Be.
Scan Your Documents
Want to get rid of those piles of paper cluttering your desk? Go digital. Anything you don’t absolutely need a physical copy of should be scanned. Save the files as PDFs, and you’ll have a directory that’s way more searchable and convenient than a file cabinet. You should scan papers you do need to save physical copies of too, but find a storage space for them somewhere else in your work space if possible, since you will probably rarely need to access them.
Utilize a Two-Tray System
Rather than keeping piles of projects scattered all over your desk, implement a two-tray system of organizing papers. One tray is for new papers that have yet to be dealt with. The other tray is for papers that have been reviewed and need to be addressed or filed. And for more ways to turn yourself into a bona fide office workhorse, check out these 15 Ways to Double Your Productivity in Half the Time.
Finish Tasks ASAP
One rule for avoiding procrastination is that if something takes less than two minutes, just do it right now. Likewise, if something at work takes under 15 minutes, just do it. Get the project done as soon as possible, so you can get it filed and out of the way, both mentally and physically. The sooner you complete a task, the sooner you it will stop distracting you, and the sooner it will stop taking up precious space at your desk, too.
Get into the habit of religiously using your digital calendar to keep track of projects and memo and note-taking apps like Keep for to-do lists and reminders. When you reach the point where everything automatically goes into a program, you have eliminated the need for Post-Its and are one step closer to a serene work environment.
Keep a Notebook Handy
Realistically, not everything can go directly into your phone, so keep a notepad on hand to jot things down, like phone numbers and reminders. While adding another item to your desk may seem counterintuitive, having a notebook handy keeps all those ideas and important pieces of information consolidated, rather than splayed across your desk on a collection of scrap paper, envelopes, and menus.
Sort Things by Importance
The best way to sort things is by importance. When you’re trying to figure out where in your desk to store something, ask yourself how often you use or need it. If it’s not very often, put that item somewhere less accessible than items you use every day.
Get a Trash Can
Put a trash can next to or under your desk. That trash can is your new best friend. As soon as something you don’t need comes across your desk, toss it. The longer clutter piles up, the more you get used to it, and the more likely you are to let it stick around indefinitely. For better results, get a little recycling can as well so you can instantly discard documents that you no longer need, too. Make good use of both of them to keep clutter to a minimum.
Tether Your Cables
Disorganization isn’t just what’s in or on your desk: it’s also what’s underneath and behind your work space. If there’s a tangle of wires within eyesight, it’s going to pose a distraction. To minimize the distraction these cables can pose, get some zip ties and collect your cables together in neat little bundles, then tuck them away so you don’t have to look at them.
Keep Electronics Hidden Away
There’s probably no real need for you to have your modem and your router sitting on your desk, looking unsightly and blinking at you. Put them on the floor or in a drawer to create a more visually pleasing, less distracting work space.
Toss Pens and Pencils You Don’t Use
Pens and pencils have a way of accumulating with no real effort on your part. But you’re under no obligation to keep any of the dried up ballpoints that have shown up at your desk over the year. Try to pare down to two pens and two pencils—not only will this keep clutter to a minimum, it will also keep you conscientious about not lending them to that co-worker who never brings things back.
Create a Charging Station
In an ideal world, you could turn one of your desk drawers into a charging station for your phone, headphones, backup batteries, and all the other stuff we inevitably wind up carrying around with us. But if that’s not possible, make a charging station behind your monitor, where these items will be (mostly) out of sight—and hopefully out of mind.
Segment Your Desk
You probably spend the majority of your day on the computer, but you should still have an area of your desk that is designated for non-computer work. You can review papers, read, and tackle your to-do list there, rather than mixing a bunch of miscellany with your computer area and creating undue chaos.
Sort Papers Daily
At the end of every day, do a once-over all of your papers. Go through and determine which need to be scanned, filed, or shredded, then do that before you head out. This is one of those tasks that will be a gargantuan pain the first time, but will take less than five minutes once you get into the habit of maintaining an organized desk.
Put Office Supplies Away
If you’re using a desk caddy to hold your office supplies, bad news: even when your stuff is “put away” it’s still creating visual clutter. If possible, make a spot in a desk drawer to hold your office supplies, especially the ones that very rarely get used. A utensil tray is a great way to keep things organized and easy to find.
Do a Weekly Deep Clean
Once a week, give your desk a thorough once-over to deal with any papers or trash you missed, to re-organize office supplies that have fallen out of place in their tray, folders that have been misplaced, or files that have somehow managed to sneak their way onto your computer desktop. The more often you do maintenance during the week, the less time this will take. And once you’ve got your desk under control, be sure to master the 20 Genius Ways to Make Work More Fun.
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