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A Messy Desk is A Sign Of…

September 24, 2013
messy desk

This person’s days are numbered…

We’ve all heard the expression “I gave at the office,” but more of us should take it literally and really give at the office.

Stuff that is.

When I worked at the New York Daily News, a coworker had a desk that looked like if you got too close you’d catch a disease. Paper, wrappers, uneaten food, half full coffee cups, and even a few shoes resulted in a mountain of mess. Each morning she’d have to dig out her keyboard. One day I offered to help her organize it.

“I keep it like this,” she whispered, glancing around. “Because everyone around here is so nosy. This way they won’t touch my stuff.”

Interesting theory, but not one I’d recommend.

Instead, try this. Pick one item off your desk: a bill, coffee stained mug, box of staples, yesterday’s bagel, and ask yourself, does it belong on the desk? Can it be filed? Mailed? Tossed? Then move on to drawers, piles on the credenza, things shoved into shelves – anything that isn’t where it should be. A workspace is most productive when it has room for the actual work.

“What a Messy Desk Says About You,” a recent New York Times article, found that people who “are organized and predictable, typically eat better and live longer than people who are disorderly. They also tend to have immaculate offices.” Whether you’re a banker, chef, attorney, builder, writer or even a teacher, isn’t it nice to have a clear workspace without the fear of something being misplaced?

Working on next book, chapters laid out.

Working on next book, chapters spread out.

My Inbox at home (a nice orange box from the Container Store) contains everything that needs my attention: bills to pay, articles to read, receipts to be filed, etc. The Inbox keeps important documents from getting misplaced when I’m too busy to get to it. Then when I have time, I go through the Inbox piece by piece. Whatever doesn’t get looked at, goes back into the Inbox until the next time. And just like that, my workspace is once again clear.

Another trick to keeping your workspace clear is to create “homes” for your projects – multiple clients, classes, events you’re organizing – in separate binders, boxes or folders. This way, everything related to that one project stays together. And when you’re done working on it, you put it back and the mess goes away.

deskOf course not everyone has the luxury of space. But if you’ve at least removed the nonessential clutter, you’ll have more room for the important stuff. Remember, everything doesn’t need to be done at once. Just as you schedule time for meetings and lunches, schedule time to organize. A few things a day is progress.

Tips to be Productive at Work

  • Keep To Dos on one list, not random Post-Its taped all over the place. This keeps info from getting misplaced and immediately looks neater.
  • Use only one calendar to track your appointments.
  • When you need to focus, shut off phones and email.
  • Create a filing system that works for you.
  • Keep critical information within arms reach.
  • Use the last ten minutes of your day to put things away.
  • Have an Inbox! Make it your favorite color if that helps.

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  1. MARK Schwartzbaum permalink


  2. I feel like someone took a photo of my office, sent it to you, and you wrote this post just for me! Yikes! I moved into the office I have now four years ago. I had to move the contents of my desk/cubicle into the space while still attending to work – that means that boxes went into the office, things got shoved into drawers etc… and I’ve never had time to fix it. :((( I finally have a coworker now, an assistant who keeps saying …”perhaps we could schedule a day to go through things and throw out what you don’t need?” Finally today, we booked the day/time. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to have proper work areas and purge the bits of paper and notes everywhere.

    Thank you for the inspiration, Felice!! Sending a hug of thanks!

  3. Auntie M permalink

    I’m always trying, You are my hero! Whenever I visit somewhere you are, I go home &organize something. Today it will be the Tupperware container cabinet. Where the hell are all those covers? They must have gone with the extra socks I always seem to have!!!!

  4. Jackie permalink

    love the picture!

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