Do you have a cluttered desk at work? If so, reducing the clutter in your office can have a positive influence on a number of things, like your level of stress and mindset.
I’m all about helping you get organized, but first I have to acknowledge that a clean desk doesn’t necessarily mean you are more organized or more productive.
Just because your desk is messier than someone else’s doesn’t mean you are less valuable or less efficient. However, reducing the clutter on your desk can lower stress and help you feel more on your game.
How Reducing The Clutter Lowers Stress
What matters is whether your current environment is supporting your organizational style. And even more importantly, that your solutions match your preferences so they are helpful and sustainable.
There’s nothing worse than cleaning off your desk with the goal of reducing the clutter only to end up spending more time looking for things because you stashed them away with no system.
In the Time and Space Style Inventory (TSSI), we identify six different approaches to organizing your space. Understanding your style preferences will help you fix your cluttered desk in a way that works for you.
The most common TSSI style for people with cluttered desks is “Everything Out.” For these folks, the physical items in their space are like a To-Do List. They like to see what they have and keep it at arm’s reach. Other styles can contribute to cluttered desks and offices as well. Saving too many things or having no rules for where things belong can be problematic. Even “straighteners” may have piles on their desk that are straight but not necessarily organized. And those who prefer “nothing out” might have a clean desk, but there’s no telling what’s hiding in drawers or behind cupboard doors. (I see you!)
Before starting this process, I recommend taking the inventory to get a better idea of your personal organizational style and preferences.
Is Your Desk Clutter Stressing You Out?
When the clutter on your desk is causing stress and tension, then you know it’s time to do something about it. Even if you like to keep things out where you can see them, over time leaving things out can get to be too much.
When things are always out, eventually they disappear – they hide in plain sight. The clutter and piles are there, but you just ignore them.
Perhaps you can function with a certain level of clutter. But you know whether it’s working for you or not.
When your messy desk is causing problems, stressing you out, slowing you down, creating distractions and lack of focus… it’s time to reduce the clutter!
Digging Out and Decluttering Reduces Stress
It’s time for an archeological dig!
The first step in organizing your desk is to assess what’s there and do triage. You have to dig yourself out.
When it comes to desks, the most common thing you’ll find is paper. So when you pick up a particular piece of paper, ask yourself, “What needs to happen?”
Why did you save it? Does something still need to be done? (Many items are triggers for incomplete actions.) Do you need to keep it or can it be thrown away?
For each item, decide whether it needs to be filed, acted upon, or thrown away. We call this “sorting the FAT”:
For things that are ready to be filed away or acted on, you will need systems that work for you.
Establishing Decluttering Desk Systems That Work
When reducing the clutter on your desk, you won’t be able to act on every item immediately (that’s why they’ve been sitting on your desk for a while.) So you’ll need systems for reference or retrieval, short term action, and longer-term action.
You may also come across notes and things that represent ideas, and you can systematize how you capture ideas as well.
If you have a strong preference for “Everything Out” on the Time and Space Style Inventory, you’ll want to create systems that still allow you to have things visually displayed and reachable.
My Favorite Products To Declutter Your Desk
Here are some of my favorite systems and tips for reducing the clutter on your desk and in your office:
- Vertical file folder systems are great for things you access regularly.
- As part of your vertical file, create a Tickler File for stuff you access every day or every week.
- If you have cubby spaces, label your folders on the side and file them sideways for easy reference (like patient files at the doctor’s office).
- Drawers are best used to store long term tools and items that don’t move much.
- Group things together according to when you use them. For example, I have everything I need when I travel in my travel portfolio. That includes my information for car rentals and hotels as well as stuff for my cat sitter (even thank you notes to send her when I get home!)
There are additional recommendations in our TSSI Resource Center that are specific to your space style preferences. Gain access to the resource center after you take the Time and Space Style Inventory.
Maintaining Your Decluttered Desk
I’m sure you’ve cleaned your desk off before, only to find it cluttered again after a short time.
Decluttering is not a once-and-done activity. Although often people need to do a deep declutter triage – once that is done and you’re working at capacity – it’s important to add a maintenance routine in.
Decluttering then is a maintenance task that has to be done regularly. Stuff continues to come in, so you need systems for dealing with it on an ongoing basis or it will get out of control.
It’s like doing your laundry. You don’t have to do laundry every time you have a smelly t-shirt. You have a system for keeping dirty clothes and a trigger or schedule for when it’s time to do the wash. If you put it off, you’ll end up with a mountain of dirty laundry and nothing to wear!
Right after you do the laundry or declutter your desk, and everything is clean and organized – I call that homeostasis. It’s like a giant sigh. Aaaaahhhhhhh.
Although it’s important to think of organizing as a journey with many stops. Meaning, you’ll need to create maintenance ROUTINES to help you stay on top of everything
Getting to homeostasis has to be a goal on your journey. So, when do you get back to homeostasis? Is it at the end of every day? Every Friday? I recommend starting with a maintenance routine that achieves homeostasis once a week.
Your cluttered desk is speaking to you. What is it saying? Reducing the clutter on your desk teaches you productivity and how to organize at work. Instead of seeing clutter, try to reframe it as an archaeology project ripe for self-exploration. To be sure you move forward, make the TSSI part of your plan for reducing the clutter, and a desk that stresses you out can be a thing of the past.