When you sit down at your desk in the morning, what does it look like? Chaotic, tidy, piled up with work? Our desks are often a reflection of our personalities and states of mind. But be warned, if it’s cluttered with papers, office supplies and yesterday’s coffee mug, the appearance of your workspace could be impacting not only your productivity - but also your wellbeing.
With this in mind, here are a few reasons why it’s so important to keep your desk clean, and what I do to ensure my own workspace promotes focus and relaxation.
The benefits of a clean desk:
It can increase productivity
Contrary to what some believe, a messy desk doesn’t always mean that work is getting done. In fact according to one experiment of 100 undergraduates, a chaotic workspace actually undermines productivity.
“We’ve found that people sitting at messy desks are less efficient, less persistent, and more frustrated and weary than those at neat desks,” write the authors of the study, Boyoun (Grace) Chae and Rui (Juliet) Zhu, in this Harvard Business Review article.
In the experiment, students in two, very different workspaces were asked to engage with a challenging task. Those who were left to work in a clean environment stuck with the task 1.5 times longer than those exposed to a messy environment. According to the study, it’s because the untidy environment posed “a threat” to students - they felt a less of self control, and coping with the messy environment around them depleted their mental resources. This made it more difficult for the students to complete the task as directed.
It goes to show: if you’re given a challenge at work, an orderly environment will make you more determined to complete it!
You’ll waste less time
A tidy workspace can improve productivity and it can also save you time. It might have taken you 45 seconds to find your favourite pen this morning, but another 6 minutes to locate that client form. And that was all before 9 am! When each item doesn’t have a designated spot on your desk, you spend more time searching. This time adds up, meaning you have significantly less opportunity to innovate, help clients, and engage in more creative processes.
It will keep you healthier
If you work in a busy office, you know there always seems to be a bug going around. And if you keep a messy desk, you might be more likely to catch it. In fact according to a University of Arizona study from a while back, a desk has more germs than a toilet seat: while an office’s toilet had 49 germs per square inch, desks had 21,000 germs per square inch. That means your desktop - including your phone, mouse and keyboard - is a breeding ground for viruses that cause the cold and flu. Yuck! A clean desk, on the other hand, will keep you healthier.
Tips for improving your space:
Take 10 minutes to tidy
I always spend a few minutes around lunch - and then again before heading home - to re-organise my workspace. This means returning the mugs to the kitchen, cleaning up any coffee stains, putting my office supplies back where they belong, and filing documents in the correct spot.
I recommend keeping a file holder on your desk with a designated space for important documents, and less important - but still active - documents underneath. This keeps everything within arms reach, but properly organised.
Deep clean once a week
Disinfect your desktop, keyboard, phone and office supplies at least once a week - or more often when there’s a bug going around. This ensures your workspace doesn’t become a habitat for viruses - which can make both you, and your coworkers ill.
Allow yourself only a few decorative items
It’s always nice to personalise your workspace. But instead of cluttering your desk with knick-knacks and photos, it’s better to keep only a few of your favourite items around. Instead of pinning each of your kid’s paintings to your cubicle, for example, try just putting one in a stylish frame.
Take on some DIY projects
In addition to displaying a few selected sentimental items, make the space your own through engaging in some DIY projects. Spruce up your cork board by covering it with a chique textile, or hang some stylish clipboards to the wall to place you to-do lists on. Just because you’re keeping your workspace minimal, doesn't mean you can’t make it your own.
Bring on the aromatherapy
If you work from home, improve your workspace through aromatherapy! I’m a huge fan of diffusing oils like peppermint, lavender, rosemary, bergamot - and a whole range of others - which help to increase productivity, improve my mood and reduce stress. I love what I do, but aromatherapy makes my workday even more enjoyable.
I truly believe that keeping a desk clean and clutter-free is one of the best ways to increase productivity at work. But don’t forget to add a few personal touches to your workspace, either, to really make the space your own.