6 Ways to Avoid Desk Clutter

Desk Setup June 2009
Desk Setup June 2009 (Photo credit: Trevor Manternach)
A cluttered desk can be the cause of many bad habits like procrastination, inefficient work habits, and distraction.  If you're anything like me keeping a clutter free desk is a constant battle.  I really have to work on that on a daily basis.  I don't know where all the clutter comes from but it just seems to build throughout the day.
So, here are six ways that I am trying to battle the clutter monster:

  • Keepsakes - yes, I know we all love having pictures of our kids and loved ones on our desk.  But once there are more than one or two of them they are just taking up space.  And they tend to collect dust, which means your desk looks more cluttered than it really is.  My rule is one or two personal, non-functional items.  The rest get moved to other areas.  The top of the filing cabinet, window sills, upper areas that aren't good for storing things you actually use are all good places for your personal items.
  • Tools - you know what I mean.  The stapler, hole puncher, paper cutter - they all take up space but do you really need to have them on your desk?  If you don't use them at least once a day or more find another place for them.  Put them in a drawer or find another part of the room for them so that they aren't taking up space on your desk.
  • Use a notepad.  If you have one notepad that you use to jot down phone numbers and messages and other important information you won't need to have all those sticky notes all over the place.  Those things can build up fast and if there are a lot of them they certainly add to the clutter.  And how many times have you looked at a sticky note to realize that it is about something that you don't even remember any more?  Use one note pad for all of your notes and when something is completed, go into your notepad and strike it off.  That way you'll know that only the things that aren't stricken are relevant.
  • File it.  Don't leave papers sitting all over your desk.  Don't even leave them in neat little piles.  The only things that should be on your desk are the things that you are going to need within the next 24-48 hours.  If you aren't going to use it in that time period - FILE IT!  That's what file cabinets are for!
  • Keep only the items you need on your desk.  Do your really need to have a pen in every color of the rainbow on your desk?  Not very likely - unless you do some kind of artistic work that requires you to work in many different colors.  Keep a blue pen, a pencil, and maybe a red pen on your desk and put the rest away.  Same goes for other small objects.  You might need an eraser or white-out but most of the smaller items on our desk are not needed throughout the day - put them away.
  • Clean Desk Policy - implement the clean desk policy.  At the end of each day - or even several times a day like before you go for lunch - take 5-10 minutes to clear your desk.  Only the most immediately needed materials should be out there.  Everything else gets put away or filed.  Trust me - this is a very satisfying 5-10 minutes because when you come back after lunch or the next morning you can immediately focus on your first task at hand.