Clutterbusters: Desktop/Office

Tips on Cleaning Your Office Space

Celebrating National "Clean Up Your Desk Day"

Unless you are one of those extremely tidy and efficient rare unicorns, you may know something about a cluttered desk.  We are of a firm belief that there are office elves that come in overnight and add things to our otherwise heavily laden desks for us to discover in the morning. (They also do a horrible job of cleaning out the office fridge, by the way.)  For those of you who keep a neat and tidy desk 100% of the time - kudos to you.  The rest of us might be in need of a little help.  Did you know that January 9th is National “Clean Up Your Desk Day”?  Yup.  Apparently, this is definitely a thing. Though we have a sneaking suspicion that this day may have been created solely by a rare tidy and efficient office unicorn who wants everybody ELSE to be tidy and efficient too, we digress. Even though many of us strive for a neat and today desk, it seems that it is a thing we rarely accomplish. So let’s make a pact together, and strive for the unexpected!

Here are a few tips on how to clean up what is already inhabiting your desk, what should generally live on your desk, in your desk, and how to maintain a simplified and productive workspace, whether at home or at the office.  Read on!

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Clean Up

Set aside some time today, either at lunch, or late in the day (or even come in early tomorrow morning, and push yourself away from your desk.  Take a good look at the surface of your desk.  What does it look like to you?  Does it say, I work in a neat and efficient manner?  Or does it scream “Help! I am being buried alive?” For most of us, it is likely somewhere in between, where there is just a subtle distant murmur of a cry for help, and some disorganized piles.  In actuality, there are most likely items or piles that are on your desk that fall into the following categories.

  1. Have always been there, and you have just gotten used to seeing them on the desk, or maybe no longer see them at all because they have become more of a permanent fixture.
  2. Projects and paperwork that you are actively working on.
  3. Projects and paperwork from projects that you have already completed, and are in the "Waiting Zone" of needing to be filed, passed on, or put away.
  4. Things that don't have a home, and you don't know where else to put them, so there they are.
  5. Items you actually use for your job.
  6. Things that belong somewhere else or to someone else
  7. Items that personalize your desk
  8. Trash

So here we go.  Let’s actually make those piles.  If you have a desk with drawers, start there.  If you have an “L” shaped desk move everything on the surface to one side of the “L”.  This will give you a clean space on which to work.

Starting from one corner of your desk (or desk drawer), and moving towards the other.  Go through everything on your desk.  Literally, touch everything.  Move it into one of the 8 mentioned piles on the cleared part of your desk.  If you don’t have a large desk, use another readily available surface (hello office floor). When you are doing so, really scrutinize.  Your goal here is to have only what you really need on top of your desk, and have only what you need to regularly reference, or office tools you actually use on your desk.

As you go along, throw out the trash, recycle what you can, and keep going.  For a lot of us, once it moves to a desk drawer, it never sees the light of day again, so ask yourself, could these things be scanned and kept in an electronic file in your computer instead of taking up valuable real estate in or on your desk?

Once you have cleaned an area, literally clean the area.  Take a disinfectant wipe, and give it a good once over, so that you have a nice spotless surface free of crumbs and pen marks. The same goes for your desk drawers.  The hope is, you will be less likely to junk up a newly cleaned space.

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Permanent Residents

Once you have identified what is actually supposed to have semi-permanent residence on your desk, organize it into more manageable piles, or in files from the newly decluttered internal workings of your desk.

Your desk shouldn’t be all business.  Having personal mementos on your desk “marks” your territory per se, provides a sense of ownership, differentiates it from other desks, and provides happiness for the person who sits at it.  So it is okay to give your desk its own unique personality, (unless your office has direct guidelines or rules against it) though it might be good to refrain from having your entire Funko Pop collection on display. Whatever you display should help make your personal desk area an extension of yourself, but not serve as a distraction.

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We all start with the best of intentions when it comes to good habits. A sure way of keeping up with the good habit of maintaining your clean desk is to take 10 minutes at the end of each business day to regroup and evaluate. Throughout the day, you should do your best to put things in their proper places, with your “end of the day” ritual as an opportunity to fine-tune. At the end of the work week, you should wipe down the entire surface of your desk so that when you come back to work on Monday morning, you start the week with a tidy desktop.  (Be sure to use electronic wipes on your computer screens.)

Some helpful desktop times that might be helpful in keeping you in the rare tidy unicorn category:

  • Stackable letter tray: You can label each level with a project or a particular category. Everything you are working on that belongs to that category can be returned there.
  • Whiteboard: By having an active running project list on your whiteboard, helps keep you organized and on task. It also prevents items on your to-do list from falling through the cracks. Seeing everything listed that you are currently working on, or need to work on helps you visually organize your projects for greater efficiency.
  • Screen/disinfectant wipes: Keeping these handy, provides you with a way to give your desk or desktop a quick once over after eating at your desk, or to keep germs at bay.
  • Label maker: Not only are these things super fun, they can keep labeled items uniform and legible, which is not only helpful for you, but for your co-workers as well. If you are out of the office, or another person needs something from you, they can easily identify the files they need. 

All in all, a clean desk will give you more time to work on what is important, and less time trying to find “I know it’s here somewhere” and “where did I put that” items.  It helps lead to better time management, which will undoubtedly lead to less stress for you, and those around you. You may even find that you have had an efficient and tidy rare unicorn underneath the clutter on your desk all along!

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