One school of thought says messy desks and offices are a sign of huge productivity. Wherever that logic comes from, the ground reality is that it’s not much fun living or working in disorganized, untidy, downright unhygienic spaces. No matter your field of work, it’s a challenge to perform at your best in a chaotic, poorly-maintained office. Personal preferences apart, there’s no need to be OCD about it. A basic, regular routine helps you to know how to keep your office clutter-free. With more and more people opting to work from home, keeping a neat work area becomes more essential. It’s a challenge, but it can be done.
Why Messy Offices Are Counter-Productive
What do we see when we work in untidy and cluttered surroundings? Papers strewn all over desks, empty coffee cups, stains and spills, food scraps, puddles of spilled soda or melted ice on the floor, stained carpets and upholstery, faded, torn, and shabby curtains, overflowing trash bins, files and stationery scattered on the desk and floor, dusty shelves, finger-prints on computer screens and more. Unpleasant odors and perhaps vermin and insects crawling around. While this represents extreme neglect, many of these elements can be found in some workspaces.
The excuse that most people have for the condition of their offices is that there’s simply no time to tidy up. Hectic work schedules, back-to-back meetings, deadlines, and information overload are features of most places. Research shows that our surroundings significantly impact our behavior, emotions, decision-making, efficiency, and relationships. Clutter plays a negative role in fostering workplace health and safety.
The human brain strives to make order out of chaos and discern patterns in what we see. When confronted with a mess, we feel confused and unable to act. We’re able to receive and process information better in an organized environment. Messy offices compel people to make poor food choices, trigger avoidance and delaying tactics, impair our communication, and increase our anxiety and stress.
The mess can swiftly turn into a vicious cycle. You find a messy desk corner where you park your “to-do” stuff. This pile soon reaches dizzying heights as you permit yourself to procrastinate. Your efficiency suffers in the bargain, and you’re confronted with a humongous pile of pending work.
To make things worse, a messy office is equated with a messy mind! So you may assume someone whose workspace is full of clutter is lazy, less conscientious, neurotic, or eccentric.
Spotless desks make clients and visitors go. Wow! They feel more comfortable and relaxed. It gives them the feeling that they have your undivided attention.
The solution is regular de-cluttering and tidying up.
How To Keep Your Office Clutter Free
Work From Scratch: For a real clean-up, take everything off the desk, shelves, and walls and place the stuff on the floor in the middle of the room. Now you can decide what to keep, throw, and place where. This helps if you’ve been working in this space for a while and know how it gets messy.
Analyze Your Space: Take a few minutes to map your workspace. Whether it’s a tiny cubby hole or a corner office, it has its limits. If it’s small, you can go vertical. You can organize it better with taller shelves, floating shelves, hanging filing cabinets, open wall-to-wall shelving, and more. In larger areas, you have the luxury of creating special areas for different activities, storage, and types of work.
Understand The Workflow: Mentally divide your workspace into different areas. No matter how tiny it is, demarcate clear zones for working, refreshments and visitors. Once you know where, how, when, and why stuff enters, you can plot the exit/parking strategy. Papers must be dealt with immediately. Sort, file, mark and stow them at once. This can be done in a paper processing area so that paper doesn’t invade your desk. Keep a wastepaper basket within easy reach. A similar strategy works for food and beverages. You must classify work and living areas very clearly if yours is a home office.
Invest In Organizers: Calendars, whiteboards, soft-boards, in-and-out trays, stationery holders, filing stations, paper shredders, and cardholders are good to keep clutter down. A wire manager takes care of ugly wires snaking all over the space. Depending on your budget, invest in cordless electronics as much as possible. Keep your phone and keys in handy holders that can be attached to the side of your desk. This saves time and effort hunting for them. Dividers, binders, box files, and transparent plastic envelopes are a great way to organize paperwork. Raid your kitchen for spice racks to store paper clips, pins, tacks, and elastic bands in clear glass bottles. Finally, designate a small cabinet for office supplies.
Decorate: Your office doesn’t have to be a drab, soul-less glass and concrete cube. You will take more pride in your work if you personalize it and decorate it to reflect your vision, work ethic, and personality. Green plants and flowers make all the difference. Just make sure you water the plants and replace flowers when they begin to fade. If you’re required to hang licenses, certificates, and degrees on the wall, use matching frames, find the right place, and get them fixed by a professional. If your work requires you to project a more serious demeanor, avoid colors, quirky artifacts, prints, pictures, and bling.
Cleaning Schedule: Chalk out a clear and compulsory cleaning schedule for yourself, assistants, and cleaning staff. Five minutes spent before you start work helps boost fresh beginnings and a clear mind. Spray a pleasant citrus room freshener and water your plants. Don’t keep anything you haven’t used in the past two months. Reference materials can be accessed on the net; paperwork can be stored on the cloud and digitally. This goes for bulky reference books. Unless, of course, you’ve authored them yourself and would like to showcase your work. Take 15 minutes at the end of the day to clean up before you go. This helps you to de-stress and unwind before you call it the end of your working day. Post memos and reminders on your soft board if you need to tackle something the next day. If you have a private washroom, ensure it’s clean and fresh for tomorrow.
Clean workspaces provide emotional, physical, and social benefits. They promote productivity, relationships, efficiency, and profits. In addition, your brand image and that of your company get a natural boost. Keeping your office and work area neat and tidy doesn’t take much. The key is consistent, regular, and timely de-cluttering.