If you’re working from home (or working anywhere to be honest), there’s always a lot going on. Your desk becomes a catch all for papers coming in, papers going out, papers put there while you work out where to put them. Notepads, headphones, bills, kids’ toys, the washing…..and on and on and on. And who has time to actually sit and sort it all out, because you have WORK TO DO.
The problem is though, clutter on your desk is just like clutter anywhere else. The mere sight of it raises the levels of your stress hormones. A bit of stress is good. A bit of stress is what helps you stay focussed and alert when you have a deadline to meet, or keeps you on your toes when you’re pitching for new business. That’s good stress. Bad stress is when you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed. Bad stress can cause all sorts of physical and emotional problems and is generally….bad.
I’m not saying that all of the stress you feel when you work can be resolved by organising your desk, but an organised workspace can help with some of it. It can help save you time because you always know where everything is; it can help you prioritise because only the things that you need are right in front of you; and it can help you feel calmer because your environment is just a much nicer place to be.
So what are the secrets to a more organised workspace if you’re working from home? Below are 7 tips to help you organise your desk to make it work better for you and generally be a more appealing place to hang out and get stuff done.
- Claim your spaceNot to state the obvious, but your desk needs to be somewhere you can actually sit down and work with minimal fuss and zero prep. In your mind, and in the mind of anyone you share your home with, it needs to be a scared space that is reserved for only that purpose. Bills and the general stuff of life admin can be there – that’s fine and makes sense – but it is not a general dumping ground, which means that the washing basket, the shopping bags, the kids toys and that book you’ve been reading, are not welcome. They need to find another place to call home. Permanently.
- Clear the papersOnce you’ve got rid of the obviously mis-homed things, there’s probably still piles of papers and other work-related things left. This is when you need to declutter. Take some time (or set a timer for 20 minutes as soon as you sit down for the next week, if you can’t give yourself a big block of time), and go through every piece of paper on your desk and hiding in any drawers/on shelves next to it. Throw away any junk mail, empty envelopes or scribbled notes you no longer need. As you do, sort the remaining papers into To Do and To File.
The To Do pile should only be things that you need right now to get your immediate work done. Be strict with this, you’re not throwing the other pile away, so if there’s something that’s useful and you will need, but isn’t something you’re working on right now, file it and make a note on your To Do list to come back to it. Those papers you do need today should be accessible, but contained, so use an in-tray or magazine file (my preference), to keep everything together (take a look below for some lovely options).
The To File pile needs to be sorted according to subject. This will obviously depend on what you need, but try to keep the categories quite broad so you don’t end up with lots of piles with very little in them. These can then be taken off your desk and stored nearby. If you can, I’d recommend using suspension files, so you can easily see and reach the documents when you come back to them, and don’t forget the labels! (There are more paper-clearing tips in this blog post: 6 tips to manage paper clutter at home)
- Now clear the clutterTake everything else off your desk. Those post-its, the stray pens, the random battery, everything. Look at what you have gathered and pull out ONLY the things that you need. You definitely don’t need 27 spare pens. Now contain those things. Do you have a handy drawer to tuck them away out of site? Or a shelf to store spare stationery nearby? If you do, use them. Group pens with pens, and envelopes with envelopes. Keep them together, and close by, but keep them off your desk. If you don’t have extra storage, try getting a pretty, lidded box which can sit on your desk, but which will keep the stationery out of sight. When you’ve done that, choose your very favourite pen/scissors/ruler/pencil (I have no idea what you do for a living!) and put them in a SMALL pen pot. Choose something that makes you smile when you look at it. You deserve to have something like that to look at while you’re working, so if you don’t have something that fits the bill, I give you permission to go shopping!
- Clear the cables!There are a couple of options for tackling a nest of cables. You could get a cable tidy box (like this) which neatly stores all of your cables in a smart-looking box, rather than being faced with an angry looking extension cable. Or you can mount the extension cable on the underside of your desk or on the wall behind (that’s what those little holes on the bottom of the extension cables are for!). Whichever you choose, try to wrap any extra length of the cable neatly with velcro cable ties (like these), so only the bare minimum is left exposed, and then label the plug socket so you know exactly what you’re unplugging.
- Go with the flowNow that the clutter is clear, you need to think about how you use your desk and what’s on it. Our brains are wired to work from left to right, so instinct says put work coming in (To Do) on the left, and work going out (To File) on the right. Are you right handed or left handed? If you’re right handed, put your joyful pen pot on the right hand side, and vice versa. Do you have a charging stand for your phone (or even a landline!)? Do you generally hold your phone in your right hand or your left hand? Set up your phone on that side. Work with your natural habits and lay out your desk according to how you would naturally reach for things.
- Don’t forget the digital mess What’s on your computer is as important as what’s on your desk when it comes to working with a clear mind. A cluttered digital desktop, and chaotic filing system will do the same to your stress levels as it does IRL. It’ll take time, but follow the same process for organising the files on your computer as you did for your desk. Delete what you don’t need. File (in broad categories) what you do need. The more layers of filing you have, the more difficult it is to remember where you filed something, so keep it simple and intuitive and make friends with the search function. It’s there to help you find things, after all!
- Give it a bit of lifeAs much as your desk needs to be organised and clear to help you concentrate and work effectively, it also needs to be inspiring. Put a small potted plant in your line of sight. Plants can reduce stress and are amazing productivity boosters. Also, add some personality to the space. Choose something to look at that brightens your mood when you look at it. A photo? A painting? A postcard that makes you smile? Anything that makes it a pleasure to sit down and be near.
Here are a few lovely things which might help turn your chaotic desk into that place you want to be….
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