10 Tips to Help Keep Your Desk Clean

by ianmckenzie on March 2, 2012

This is one of the more popular posts at Ian’s Messy Desk. I’m reposting with some update information.

How much stuff do you have sitting on your desk or in your work area? A while back, Coopers & Lybrand (nowPrice Waterhouse Coopers) released data from a poll on personal organization. One statistic found that, “The average desk worker has 36 hours worth of work on their desk and wastes up to 3 hours a week just “looking” for STUFF!” Finding stuff on my messy desk bears out that statistic. Being disorganized is responsible for a lot of wasted time.

While there is a challenge in the initial cleaning of the messy desk, the regular maintenance often poses the bigger challenge. Here are some tips to help keep the desk clean:

  1. Sort your mail and toss junk as it arrives. Even with an in-basket, you need to process your mail dailyto avoid accumulating a stack of paper. Sort where you have places to put each category of mail: 1) garbage, 2) recycling, 3) bills, 4) etc.
  2. Get rid of sticky notes and scraps of paper. Round them all up and transfer their information tosomething a little more permanent, efficient, and user-friendly. Get a single notebook and use it torecord notes, phone numbers, web addresses, ideas, to-dos, etc.
  3. Create a list or binder of regularly referenced material, such as phone numbers, and keep it accessible in a desk drawer.
  4. Schedule filing time at least once per week. To be more productive, allocate 15 minutes each week. Initially it may take you longer to catch up if you have a large pile, but 15 minutes is manageable. We all can find this much time in our schedules.
  5. Add dated or calendar items to a tickler file system or a diary as soon as they arrive. anything you need reminded of on some future date goes into your tickler file. Every morning, pull out the folder for the day and place the contents into your inbox. Then it is right at hand when you need it.
  6. When you stop working on something, put it away until the next time you need it. Don’t leave half-completed projects sitting on your desktop.
  7. Keep nothing on your desk unless you absolutely need them. If you aren’t joining sheets of paper with tape, move the dispenser off the desk. If you want personal photos in the office, have only one on thedesk or better yet, hang them on the wall.
  8. Keep a reading folder for material you need to read. Put non–urgent “to read” items in file folder; use multiple folders if you have different to-read categories. As you receive new items, place them in the front of the folder. If the folder gets too full, toss the old stuff without looking at it. That way you always have current stuff that might go back a month or two. Schedule regular reading time to clear the material.
  9. Create a “waiting for” or pending file to hold items dependent on outside action. This is not the same as a tickler file. This is for actions waiting on an external response. I.e., you’re waiting on quotes before you can go ahead a get the office repaintied.
  10. Create a weekly appointment to clean your desk and this includes dusting or polishing. You might be less inclined to mess up a shiny desk. ;)

It doesn’t take much “neglect” for your workspace to fill up with things that eat at your productivity. A few simple and regular good habits can free up a bunch of extra time for getting things done.

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