Does a tidy desk matter?

Earlier this year, I reset my home office space. Part of it was because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to reorganise things with my wife working from home and with kids now doing more learning at home. And part of it was a changing family dynamic. But the net result was that I now have a dedicated room to work from. The challenge for me has always been about keeping it a distraction free zone. And making a little bit of effort to keep it that way has made a huge difference to my productivity.

I’ve made a concerted effort to keep my workspace neat. This photo isn’t very staged. Other than putting the Apple Pencil and AirPods in place, the rest is more or less exactly as I have it every day.

My office set up

I’ve already mused on my top five productivity tips where I mentioned the importance of having a well organised workspace. But it really makes a big difference to me. When I sit at my desk each morning, the blinds are open, letting natural light in. That happens automatically with an automated motor that opens and closes the blind on a schedule.

Closing automatically is important as it’s a signal for me to stop work at the end of the day – although my dogs sort that out as they seem to have internal clocks set to when I should take them for a walk!

My office is largely furnished with IKEA gear including my desk, cupboards and drawer units. Everything has its place and I take time each day to put things away.

For the times I need a little extra table space, for a project or to test something, I have a foldaway table I use. When the project is done, I can put the table away and keep my space uncluttered.

Any papers that arrive through the mail that need to be kept are scanned, stored and shredded. I have no filing cabinets or paper storage. The only documents I keep are essential identity and legal documents and they are stored safely and out of the way.

The only device I keep set up that I don’t use daily is my camera and tripod. I tend to use it each week and I’ve decided the time it takes to set it up justifies leaving it set up and in a corner, where it’s out of the way.

Otherwise, if I don’t need something everyday, it’s not visible.

How does this help?

When I sit down to work, there’s very little to distract me. My essential apps (Google Docs, Chrome, Apple Mail, Asana, Clockify and Slack) are all open and ready for me to get to work – I leave them open from the night before.

This means I don’t spend time searching for stuff. So, when I get to me desk, I can start work straight away. My ‘scan and shred’ system means all documents are automatically indexed so i can find receipts, documents and other bits of ‘paper’ in a few seconds – it’s why I gladly pay for an Evernote pro subscription each year.

A clean workspace makes a difference to me mentally. When I was less organised it took me much longer to get into the right frame of mind to get my work started. I could easily blow an hour finding stuff I needed and overcoming the inertia created by having to get past the busyness of my desk.

As I write this, there are two pieces of snail mail on my desk and I really want to get rid of them. The coloured envelope of a charity I support and an offical letter I need to file catch my eye every few minutes and I really need to open them and read them.

While I know there’s nothing urgent in them I need to act on now, they have gravity – they keep dragging my eyes away from writing this!

You say it’s not for you?

Lots of people i know say they work better when everything is piled up around them. I get it. Some people say they are ‘box’ people and others say they are ‘pile’ people. So I’d like to throw out a challenge.

If you’re a ‘pile’ person, spend some time clearing your workspace and commit five minutes each day to keeping your workspace uncluttered. Do it for one month. The first week will be hard – breaking habits is challenging. But it will get easier.

Tell me how it worked for you after a month? Did you save time looking for things? Were you able to get to work faster each day? Were you more productive and able to reclaim time to do something fun?

What do you have to lose?