(3.5 Minute Read or Listen Below)
Location, location, location. It isn't just about the real estate market.
Is your desk intentionally arranged? Or is everything strewn about wherever it landed the last time you used it? Like it or not, your personal productivity is significantly impacted by how you arrange your desk. With studies indicating an hour a day is lost looking for things, time spent thoughtfully organizing your work surface is time well-spent.
Not everyone has an office footprint as small as mine at just 10-square feet, with my desk surface measuring in at only 17" x 36". But while creating that space, I learned I'm better off limiting how many items are on my desk at any given time anyway. Being intentional, and only having out what I'm actively working on effectively "nudges" me to put things away when I'm done with them. As a byproduct, it limits the number of places I need to look to locate something, and it keeps visible clutter to a minimum.
As a teenager, I had one big pile of, we'll kindly call it "stuff," in the middle of my bedroom. I would defend to my parents that with one pile, I only had one place to look for everything – it was in that one pile somewhere! Perhaps that logic worked when I was a teenager, but it would never work for me now.
Please, don't misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with keeping relevant piles of work on your desk while you're actively using them. But it could be challenging to argue that a pile covering your entire desk is serving you well.
Cognitive clutter is a real thing. The more your workspace is in disarray, the more mental energy it takes to process everything around you and determine what is really important. That's why clearing the clutter works wonders for your productivity.
Your desk is your command center, and it plays a pivotal role in your productivity. Statistics show 80% of what we keep we never use. This can also be applied to your desk. How often do you really use the items that reside on this prime real estate? Do your stapler and your tape dispenser need to be on top of your desk? Perhaps an easily accessible drawer could be a better home for these items. Are the pens and highlighter markers floating around really easier to find if they're buried under paperwork? If you have piles on your desk, when did you last access all of the information they contain? Or, have you merely procrastinated taking action with their contents?
As a general rule, the things you use daily should be within arm's reach on your desk. The less frequently an item is used, the further away from you it can reside in a drawer, file cabinet, etc. You should always leave yourself an ample, clear horizontal surface on which to work. And please, don't stash items under your desk at the expense of your legroom. Being restricted and unable to move your feet and stretch your legs under your desk is also a distraction.
While it may seem like a good idea at the time, outlining your computer monitor with sticky notes isn't the most effective way to remind yourself of things. Eventually, they fade into the background of your conscious mind but still act as visual clutter pulling your attention. When absolutely necessary, use them only for critical short-term reminders then discard.
Personal mementos and pictures can evoke positive feelings and serve to express our unique identity. But having too many items around can be distracting. Remember, even if we don't realize it, our brain pulls in everything within its visual range and tries to process it. If your desk is full of items, no matter how precious, that's a lot of processing power that could be used to focus on meaningful work. I've heard recommendations to keep no more than three personal items on your desk within your line of sight.
It also helps me to spend a few minutes at the end of each day, putting away items used throughout the day and clearing off my desk surface. I begin the new day thinking more clearly when yesterday's leftovers are no longer hanging around. Perhaps doing this daily may be too frequent for you, maybe once a week would be better. Give it a try. You may find the dread of Monday morning diminishes when the desk that awaits you is more inviting.
I wish I could say there is a one-size-fits-all method to arranging your desk, but the possibilities are as unique as each individual. You must organize it in a way that makes sense for the way you work. You may need to experiment a bit until you find what works best for you. But once you find it, you will definitely feel the difference. You will experience improved clarity and focus, you won't be as overwhelmed by visual distraction, and your productivity will increase.