When you sit down at your desk, are you eager to get to work, or are you put off? Maybe your desk is littered with reminders of unfinished tasks. Or perhaps there is just too much stuff there for you to think. In any case, it is easy to get rid of the distractions and reclaim a productive workspace.
It had gotten to the point where I didn’t want to sit at my desk. I was actively avoiding it, preferring to work outside the house or on the kitchen table. Or even worse, avoiding the work altogether. Since it happened both at my regular desk and my writing studio, I had to figure out why I didn’t want to work in those places. The answer was that both workspaces were loaded with distracting clutter.
Distraction? Or Useful?
There are things that are useful on a workspace, and there are things that are useless, and there are things that are useful but only used rarely.
If you take a look at your workspace, really look, what do you see? Even better, if you can move everything to another location, look to see what was on your workspace (this is a good way to get your surface cleared so you can wipe it down, by the way)
I will bet that there are things on your desk that you don’t even realize are there anymore. How much of it is useful on a daily basis (pens, keyboard, notepad)? How much of it is useful but doesn’t get used daily (stapler, tape dispenser, hole punch)? And how much is distraction (decorations, photos)?
Let’s walk through simplifying your desktop so that you can eliminate as many distractions as possible.
How many pens do you use every day? How many do you have on your desktop?
Pens are one of my vices. Since I am left-handed, finding a pen that works for me is rare. When I do find a type of pent that works, I have a tendency to stock up, because who knows when I will find another pen that works?
So this leads me to have dozens of pens on my desk. Some are useless to me, because they smudge when I use them. Most are duplicates that work. But how many pens do I really need?
Before I cleared this out, I had a mug full of pens and then piles of pens behind my computer, in my drawers, and a couple of pouches full of pens. I donated almost 50 pens to a teacher I know, and I am left with very little in my pencil mug: three mechanical pencils with three sizes of lead; a blue, black and pink pen; a yellow highlighter; and a sonic screwdriver. I also keep my expensive monogrammed pen from a good friend on my keyboard and use that most of the time.
Challenge: How many pens do you have on your desktop? How many can you get rid of? If you haven’t used it in two weeks, put it aside and see if you miss it in the next week. If you don’t, get rid of it.
A good place to get rid of writing implements are teachers. Students, particularly high school students, seem to think that they can take notes and write tests without a pen or pencil. Most teachers buy packs of pens and pencils out of their own money to supply their students.
Office supplies tend to be left out on the desktop, even when they aren’t used regularly. You might have a stapler or tape dispenser or hole punch on your desk. How often do you use them?
In my writing studio, I had a miniature set of office supplies in a container that looks like a keyboard. It contains a single hold punch, stapler, paperclip holder and keybaord brush. Yet I rarely, if ever, used it. There was also a calculator, file tabs and small sticky notes. On my main workspace I had notepads, piles of sticky notes, a little pile of binder clips and my screwdriver set.
While all of these things are useful, none of them are used on a daily basis. So I found spots in my drawer to keep them. (My stapler and tape already live in a drawer)
Challenge: how many items on your desktop do you not use daily? Find another place to keep them. Or get rid of them if you haven’t used them in the last six months.
Ah, decorations. We want to make our workspaces personalized, but it often ends up being cluttered. How often do you look at the decorations? Look around and see what is there collecting dust or pulling your attention away from your work.
My main workspace has a bulletin board over it. Every inch of that was covered with various things: inspirational sayings, photos, mementos, cartoons…you know what I mean. Same with my writing studio. The board to my right was covered in cartoons, bumper stickers, things my daughter had drawn. In addition, I have a line with various things clipped to it (so many I couldn’t clearly see any of them) plus my plot bunny, various owl statues and an Arrow figurine.
Everything was taken out, evaluated, and either found new homes or was put on the giveaway pile. Now as I look around either of my desks, I see nothing I want to focus on or play with. On the line above my desk, there is a picture of Thomas Jefferson, my vision board for the year, and two reminders: one to simplify, and the other thing to keep working on my goals. On my board is a calendar, my daughter’s art and a reminder that pigs don’t sing.
Challenge: How many decorations are in your field of vision when you sit down to work? Can you even see them clearly? Take all of the decorations down and evaluate them. Only return the ones that will inspire you to work. You can always rotate things in later.
Papers and the Dreaded File Pile
Papers breed. There is no other explanation for it. So even if you run paperless most of the time, you are still going to end up with papers on your desktop.
Even though I am paperless, I still end up with mail, school papers, sticky notes, old calendar pages and pieces of paper foisted on me by others. Both my regular desk and writing studio had papers everywhere. Even with a stacked basket system in both places, the bins were full.
Most of the things in the bins and on the desktop were either garbage or needed to be filed. This is where the dreaded file pile came in. The filing was thrown in to a pile, to be sorted and put away.
I sat down and took 30 minutes to completely clear all the papers. They were all filed quickly, and the task I had been putting off because I had been dreading actually took about 10 minutes.
Challenge: Go through the papers on your desk. Either deal with them, recycle them, or file them. But don’t leave them sitting!
This last category is for anything that doesn’t fall into the other categories. These items are things that don’t belong on your workspace, but ended up there anyway.
In my case I found a pin in the shape of a balloon, a figurine that needed to be glued back onto its base, a flashlight, several rocks, an empty lip balm tube, and a non-working solar-powered lucky cat.
I am unsure why any of these things ended up on my workspaces. So they were put in their proper places: the garbage, other places in the house, the garden, and the workbench.
Challenge: look at everything else that was on your workspace. Put it away or get rid of it.
For the most part, we have become blind to the things in our workspace. Yet at some level, they pull at our attention and interfere with what we need to do. By removing everythig from the workspace and then evaluating the categories of items, you can give yourself a distraction-free and more productive workspace in no time!
Like this article?