Have you ever extolled the value of creative clutter? Does your desk have a collection of paper piles? Is your email inbox a mix of co-mingling old messages and unread missives? Are your digital files cluttering your desktop or hanging out in folders they don’t belong in? Did your office last see a good reorganization in, well, you don’t remember when actually. It’s been a while. If you’ve answered yes to any of those, then we should talk.
Clutter Impacts Productivity, Creativity, and Mental Health
No. We’re not exaggerating. Research like that conducted by scientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute indicates disorganization and clutter can actually drain our cognitive resources and reduce our ability to focus. Clearing clutter, on the other hand, can increase our ability to process information and improve our productivity.
Other studies have found that clutter can make us more likely to procrastinate. It can also make us feel more stressed, anxious, and depressed. If that’s not enough to convince you, others perceive individuals with messy spaces as being less conscientious and less agreeable. Want to improve your productivity, your mood, and your image? Get organized.
Purge and Organize Papers
Grab the recycle can and a stack of file folders. Whether you’ve collected a pile of papers others have generated for you or you’ve got your own written documents scattered about, you likely don’t need to hold on to quite as much as you’ve got currently scattered around your workspace. Take the time to go through that collection of papers and make some hard choices. If you haven’t touched it in the last week, that paper can probably be tossed or filed away. It doesn’t need to be in arm’s reach if you’re not reaching for it.
Organize Your Digital Files
From your “download” folder to the files saved for each draft or iteration of your last big project, there’s plenty of digital clutter for you to comb through. Archive what you need to save for future reference. Create folders with clear descriptions to make finding past material easier. “Marketing Stuff” is not nearly as helpful as “2022 Direct Mail Campaigns.”
Look through old drafts for any nuggets that might be worth saving. Consider clipping those bits and pieces and saving them in an “ideas” doc and then delete early drafts if they’ve been saved as separate files. You need the final document. You probably don’t need all the previous iterations.
Clean the Inbox
From your voicemail to your saved text messages to your email inbox, you’ve likely got a bunch of old messages you’ve not yet deleted on the off chance that they contain something you may need to refer back to at some point. Review them and get rid of the stuff you can.
File the things you need in organized folders. Flag the items you need for follow-up and make a plan to get through them. Be realistic. That email with the employee handbook that HR sent you the week you started your job can probably be ditched now. That handbook has been revised and resent 3 times since you first started.
Hang the Boards
Yes, there are papers you need to keep in easy reach. Maybe it’s that list of accounting codes you need ready access to or the list of phone extensions you are always referencing. We all have some small collection of helpful bits and pieces that are helpful to have in our line of sight more often than not.
Hang a corkboard or other organizational station in easy reach from your desk. Post only what you use regularly. Don’t overlap pages. It’s not helpful to have layers of paper you need to leaf through. You want to be able to glance and go, not hunt and peck. If you work better with to-do lists or thrive with a good brainstorming space, hang a white board and use it.
Use the Tools
Maybe physical copies of lists aren’t your go-to. Give digital tools a try then. From project planning apps to calendars, there’s a host of options that can live on your laptop and your phone giving you both office and off-site access to your to-dos and contacts. Find the application that works best for you.
The reality is the best tool out there is the one that best meshes with your work style. If it feels more cumbersome than intuitive to you, you won’t use it.