Ah, the bliss of a clear desk. All that gorgeous, empty space! Plenty of room for me to grab scrap paper from the drawer beside me, and scribble notes. No distracting piles of ‘things to do’. Somehow that clear physical space on my desk also enables my mind to roam free.
The more I can relate to my client’s situation, the more effectively I can coach them, so I love working with female entrepreneurs. And a common frustration women running their own businesses share with me is the challenge of keeping their desk clear.
When you step into your office for a day’s work, does it support you to be creative, innovative and productive? Or are you faced with piles of stuff everywhere you look? Are you unable to get started until you’ve cleared a space?
And, when you do get started, are you constantly distracted as you spot something on your desk which needs to be dealt with urgently. Or which isn’t urgent but will only take a second so you might as well get it done for the benefit of getting at least one thing off the desk?
Do you find yourself sneezing at your desk? Is your office a haven for dust? When did you last clean it thoroughly, rather than scoot the end of the vacuum hose around the piles of papers (trying to avoid vacuuming up your bluetooth headset, paper clips and that rubber pad that you’ve been meaning for ages to glue back to the bottom of the printer)?
If you work from home, do you find that non-work-related items creep their way into your office, taking up residence beside your computer and demanding attention when you’re supposed to be working?
When your space works for you, it enables you to be productive. Without you even noticing it, it’s the foundation that supports you to work to your highest potential. It provides you with peace of mind so you’re free to create.
Here are five ways to ensure your office supports your productivity.
1. Notice what works for you
There’s no right way to arrange your home or workspace. What one person would call tidy, another would call cluttered. It’s about what works for you. I help people to develop a vision for their homes and workspaces, and to take actions that are consistent with that vision.
What balance between order and disorder best supports your productivity?
Do you work best with a clear desk, perhaps containing just a desk tidy with some pens and stationery in it, so you can walk in and get straight to work, laying your hand immediately on anything you want to use?
Do you flourish in a space where several part-completed projects are laid out, ready for you to work on as the inspiration takes you?
Does a certain degree of disorder stimulate your creative juices? Are you inspired by coming across things unexpectedly?
Do you ease yourself into a working session by organising and tidying your workspace?
Observe which model works best for you. And, when you’ve worked it out, continue to be mindful of how you manage your workspace. The small amount of effort needed to maintain it in the state that most inspires you and facilitates you to work most effectively, could pay huge dividends in terms of your productivity.
2. Set up a filing system
Create a file for each live project and keep it in an accessible place. I use a combination of lever arch files, ring binders and magazine files, which I keep on shelves on the wall above my desk.
For my other business, Papworth Research & Consultancy Ltd, I keep a single file of papers related to jobs I’m bidding for and create individual files for the jobs only if/when I’m commissioned.
Use less accessible places, such as filing cabinets, for papers you need to reference less often, and the least accessible places (a box under the desk?) for papers you rarely or never have to access yet do have to keep (financial records for example).
3. Use lists as reminders, not stacks of paper
In 1999, a rail crash at Ladbroke Grove killed 31 people and injured 227. The subsequent inquiry found that train drivers had become so accustomed to cancelling the alarms that flashed and sounded when they approached red signals (and therefore the automatic braking systems that would be triggered if they didn’t slow down) that they no longer noticed them. They were cancelling them automatically without taking the necessary actions to ensure safety.
Leaving things lying around is not a reliable way to remind you take action. You become accustomed to the sight of them so they cease to work as reminders.
Besides, if you have too many such physical reminders lying around, you’ll end up piling things on top until you can no longer see each ‘reminder’ which, again, will stop it being effective.
Create lists of things to do and put the related paperwork and other items away.
I have several lists at any one time. As I write this, beside me is my ‘things to do’ list for today. Under that is a piece of paper containing ‘things to do’ lists for the next three working days. Under that is a list of less urgent things that need attention. I haven’t yet decided on what day I’m going to do them. I review that list every few days, removing things from it and transferring them to my schedule.
4. Include your office in your decluttering schedule
If you’ve ever completed one of my programmes, you’ll have a decluttering schedule that ensures that you regularly declutter every area of your home. Include your office in your schedule to make sure that you sort through every pile of paper, file and shelf on a regular cycle.
Keep index boxes, printer trays, drawers etc closed so they don’t collect dust.
5. End your working day by tidying up
Allow five or ten minutes at the end of each working day to tidy away what you’ve been working on and set your workspace up for the next day.
Use this time to review your ‘things to do’ list for the next day. Add to it if necessary. Reschedule things if you haven’t got enough time to get everything done.
Not only does this enable you to start the next day energised and focused, it’s a great way to wind down and give yourself ‘closure’ each day.
I invite you to take on whichever of the above inspire you, and comment below to share the difference they make to your productivity.