I know what you’re thinking—how has a year gone by since you celebrated this in 2021? Time flies, just like that stack of papers you built over three months and knocked over in half a second. Bad jokes aside (just kidding, there are more), let’s talk about taking care of your desk as a way to take care of your mind.
“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.” —David Allen
The central reason to clean your desk is as an investment in your focus, flow, and peace of mind. Having your workspace uncluttered and organized will help you to work more efficiently, improve productivity and inspiration, and it can even give you a bit more serenity in the face of otherwise stressful situations.
David Allen, author of Getting Thing Done, describes how a cluttered life leaves you with lots of “open loops” in your mind which constantly steal your attention throughout the day, draining your energy and focus. While getting organized takes time away from other important tasks (or just enjoying your life), he says that investing time in your day to organize your life, your inbox, your calendar—even your desk—lets you “close” those loops, giving them a place where you leave them. That way, your mind doesn’t have to keep track of a million little things (or be reminded of them every time you look at the clutter) in order to keep you on track, in flow, and present.
Not only does having a tidy desk help the quality of your work at it: the tidying itself can be used to improve your work. By that, I meant that cleaning up your desk can be approached as a mindfulness exercise—one where you slow down, focus on the task at hand, and allow yourself to be absorbed in what you’re doing. When you notice that you’ve become distracted or you’re feeling rushed to get the job over with, these are friendly signals to slow down again and come back to the task at hand. In this way, even organizing your desk can help you cultivate focus, flow, and peace of mind.
And keeping your desk clean by straightening it up at the end of each day’s work closes the loops of what you’ve been doing and helps you shift into the next part of your day—rather than having it bleed into your relaxation, together time, or whatever else you’re up to.
The 80/20 rule (aka the Pareto principle) says that for many things in life (in nature, business, politics, etc.), 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. What does that mean for your desk? Only keep things on it that you use 80% of the time. Everything else should be given a home—preferably within easy reach, but somewhere that it lives so that you won’t have to take your focus off the task at hand when it needs to be found later.
Also leave a little room for inspiration. Something personal like a photo of your family may remind you of why you work so hard; a small plant may be refreshing when work stress is building. Good lighting will help to keep you from straining your eyes, and setting your laptop on a stand at eye-level will protect your energy from leaking away due to hunching over. Oh, and don’t forget that you’ll need space to put your feet up when you’re done.
And if you don’t take my word for it, then read it from the queen of tidying up herself:
“Tidying your physical space allows you to tend to your psychological space.” —Marie Kondo
Got a lot on your plate…I mean, your desk? Give us a call for a free screening and we can pair you with a friendly, non-judgmental, empathetic counselor. Our team offers a flexible pay range, wide variety of specialties, and a cup of coffee too if you need it.
Hunter Waters specializes in working with individuals and couples from an emotionally focused and existential perspective. He strives to understand how one’s relationships from childhood to the present are influencing the present situation, and how to empower the client to get their hands back on the wheel and oriented in their sense of purpose.