For me, it should be easy to have a clean and clutter-free workspace you will think. I don’t even have an office room. Just a desk with my computer in the corner of our living room. But it’s quite the opposite. Because my office is part of our living space it’s important to keep it tidy.
But a clean desk is not all it takes. There’s also digital clutter which can influence your productivity. A desktop cluttered with files gives me a headache as soon as I start my computer in the morning. In order to be productive, you need to be organized. And a lot of things can keep you from being organized which we will talk about in this post. But you shouldn’t neglect the role which your mind plays in this. As they say, a clear space is a clear mind. A clear mind keeps you focused. Don’t let it be occupied with unimportant stuff. Of course, this is different for everybody. What distracts me wouldn’t necessarily distract you too. For me, even ridiculous things like knowing there are dirty dishes in the kitchen sink can keep me from concentrating on the work right in front of me. So how do you declutter your workspace and free up your mind to be more productive?
Let’s start with the physical clutter. A desk can fast get really disorderly. And sometimes we need this kind of chaos. When I start a new design project and I am looking for inspiration I assemble books and magazines, scribbles and other stuff on my desk. I like to have everything spread out right in front of me. The thing is to put everything back in its place once you’ve finished. There are a couple of things you can do to stay on top of your clutter.
At the end of your workday, clean up your desk and put everything where it belongs. It’s so beneficial to have a dedicated place for each item. This way you don’t need to search for things every time you need them. You can use old cosmetic boxes and packaging or empty jars to separate items inside your drawers.
Keep food and beverages away from your computer. How often do we eat in front of our computer because we want to use our lunch time to squeeze in just a couple of tasks? You probably know this. But it’s not a good habit. Take your lunch break as a real break and step away from your computer. I also had my share of accidents with beverages spilled on my desk. I now put them on a little side table away from my computer and papers. And as with everything else put your plates and cups away after you used them. If you want to know what your Latte Macchiato looks like after sitting for one week on your desk you can search Google for images.
You can now go even completely digital and if you do, chapeau! I still have a couple of things in paper form. I am a bit old school and still like to use pen and paper.
Try to sort things as they come in. You can scan receipts and save them on your computer if they’re not already digital. Put everything which still needs to be treated in one place e. g. bills that need to be paid. All the papers I need for ongoing projects I have separated by each project in different colored folders.
Planners, calendars, lists
Do your planners, calendars, and lists actually help you to stay organized or are they more a form of procrastination? Often we use them as an excuse for not doing the work because we think we need to do more preparation. Listing all the tasks then listing the project goals and listing the tools we need. Preparation is important but when it starts to take more time than the actual process you should ask yourself if you’re doing it just for the sake of planning rather than for making the process easier. You don’t need multiple planners and project management systems and you don’t need a whole stack of lists. Try finding a simple system which helps you to get your work done without losing all your time just to maintain it.
Bullet journaling is a simple but efficient way to keep you organized. The best thing is you have everything in one place. If you want to get started watch this video by the creator of the bullet journal.
Reduce your lists. If you have multiple lists for daily to-dos, urgent and not so urgent tasks, things you should be doing and things you might do one day, get rid of them. All you need are two lists. One on which you can dump everything regardless of category and importance. One for your daily 3 tasks. Ever since I switched to this system I feel less overwhelmed and stressed out and even get more done than before.
Related post: How to finish your to-do list every day
Now, let’s move on to the digital clutter.
Inbox zero sounds like a dream and it’s not that difficult to achieve if you use a couple of techniques to stay on top of your daily mail.
First of all, unsubscribe from all these newsletters you haven’t opened in months, the coupons and deals you never have the time to use, and the notification emails from Facebook and other platforms and you will see your inbox already seems less scary.
Every time you read incoming emails decide directly what is trash and what needs to be kept. For emails you keep, you can do yourself a favor by creating some folders in your inbox and filing email directly to the dedicated folders.
Another great rule when it comes to tackling your email is to answer directly if it takes less than 3 minutes. This way it’s out of your mind and you won’t have to come back later, reread the email and reply.
Don’t fall into the trap of reading your emails the minute they come in. This will only distract you from your current work task. I do very well with going into my mailbox only twice a day. The world doesn’t stop if you don’t answer directly. Imagine that!
Use flags and highlights for those emails you need to treat later on because they require a longer answer.
When you can’t see your desktop wallpaper anymore it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. I rarely save or leave files on my desktop. Just a form of habit I have integrated early on in my career. But I know that many of you like to have the files they’re working on directly on the desktop. The thing is, you just never put them away once you’re done. And then it gets more and more and you can’t find what you’re looking for anymore. So even if you don’t do this every day but at least once a week put those files away where they belong.
You can also go right ahead and delete apps from your desktop you no longer use. As well as the shortcuts for apps and files you keep but rarely use.
And empty your trash while you’re there.
For your files, you need to find a system which works for you. A system which enables you to find what you’re looking for immediately. Use folders and subfolders so you can sort by client, project or category.
Once you’ve finished a project go into your folder and sort out everything you won’t need anymore.
Backup your files with an online cloud system so you won’t have to worry about files getting lost. Another great advantage of this is that you can access your files from everywhere.
Photos are a whole different kind of game. If you really want to use and work with your photos you need a good system for naming and saving them. A folder of 500 files all called something like img-2012-03-05-321.jpg won’t do. And I know this is a lot of hustle but you need to come up with categories and tags to organize your photos in a way to make searching for something specific easy.
A browser quickly gets cluttered up with bookmarks of articles we want to read, some inspiration for projects and shoes we want to buy. It’s easy to forget about these bookmarks. The very interesting article we’ve marked will never be read.
If one day you want to get back to one of your bookmarks you should be sure to find it. Every once in a while it’s necessary to clean them out. Deleting everything you don’t need anymore or can’t remember why you saved it. You can also create folders to sort your bookmarks into categories which makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.
Now I am interested to hear from you how you keep your workspace clutter-free. Do you have some tips and tricks to share?