Do you have a desk full of papers you are working on, and papers you are not working on, and a few books and magazines? And dozens of pens and cups and post-its and cables? Do you think it’s a sign of creativity or imagination? The truth is, you are either too lazy to clean it up or you don’t know how. A clean desk saves you time looking for stuff; it helps you prioritize, and focus better on the tasks at hand. Here are few tips for a clean desk:
- Don’t collect. Don’t take those cheap gift items like pens, note pads, post-its, magazines just because they are free. Or anything else that will likely end up as trash on your desk. Throw away or give away all those pens and pencils that you don’t use. Couple of family photos or frames are OK, but more than that are a distraction. You can put them in Flickr and watch a slideshow whenever you like.
- Learn to deal with paper. Don’t print or copy unless necessary. For me, there are only three places for papers: trash it (or shred it or recycle it), file it away or keep in one of your ‘work-in-progress’ folders. Have a bin, shredder and recycle tray handy so you’ll never be guilty of throwing what can be recycled or afraid to trash confidential stuff.
- Organize in clear folders. Create clear folders with labels for all the ongoing projects. These are your ‘work-in-progress’ folders. You could also have another clear folder called ‘action’ or ‘process’ or ‘today’. This has all those 2-minute papers that you can read and trash, or forms to fill, or things to sign and pass on. Deal with this folder only once a day.
- The 4 D’s of time management also apply to papers. Drop it (trash it), Delay it (work-in-progress folder or the action folder), Delegate it (pass it on) or Do it (do it now, or file it away).
- Banish post-it notes. They are too easy to lose, too difficult to focus on, and too ugly when plastered all over your desk and monitor. Write the information in the correct place the first time round – phone book, calendar, to-do list… whether you use a notebook, computer or a hand held device.
- Eat away from your desk. So your paper bags, cups and utensils won’t stick around your desk. And your keyboard won’t fill up with crumbs. Walking out of the office to eat also provides a break and some exercise.
- Tidy up the cables. It’s a one-time job organizing or hiding all those cables from the computer, chargers and phone line, but it’s surely worth the time and effort. Go wireless as much as possible.
The above tips are only useful after you have done a massive cleanup operation. Imagine your desk with just your monitor, keyboard, 2-3 clear folders, a notebook and a pen. You will be able to focus better and get more done.
[First published in Aug. 2009]