Article: Is the clutter on your desk eating into your efficiency?

Watercooler

Is the clutter on your desk eating into your efficiency?

A clean and organised desk might actually bring you a sense of balance and will save you time by making documents, files, stationary handy and accessible.
Is the clutter on your desk eating into your efficiency?

Stop what you’re doing. 

Look around you. 

How much of your desk space is visible to you?

Check your drawers.

Do you see old food bills, discarded documents, pens with no ink, or tangled wires?

If yes, chances are that this physical chaos in your work space is spilling over into your professional life. It is common knowledge that the regular human brain prefers order and predictability or chaos and clutter, but exactly how much does the latter effect our work efficiency? Researches and studies have time and again proven that a clean and clear work space increases productivity and efficiency. For example, the report ‘Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex, published by Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, notes, “Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”. Or in simpler words, an unorganised and messy environment reduces your capacity to focus, and process information. Physical clutter is a distraction akin to a loud noise, or feeling discomfort. Furthermore, a report by OfficeMax claimed that office clutter decreases productivity and motivation. Organisational leaders like Peter Walsh have gone onto claim that an unorganised workspace might actually be costing you a promotion.

Additionally, an unkempt work space reflects poorly on you. A survey done by Adecco in America showed that 57% of the respondents admitted to judging and forming opinions about co-workers, depending on how clean or messy they keep their workspaces. The same study also showed that nearly half of the respondents said that they have been ‘appalled’ by how messy a colleagues’ office is, and most hold pure laziness accountable. While the obvious benefits of keeping your office space clean and organised are obvious, namely, increased productivity, keeping information secure and handy, reduce overload and save time; researchers at University of Minnesota, also found that people who have an inherent conscientiousness, meaning that they are organized and predictable, typically eat better and live longer than people who are disorderly. Furthermore, they also tend to have immaculate offices.

However, conflicting evidence also exists to show that maybe a chaotic environment is what you might just need to become more goal oriented and creative. A research conducted in University of Groningen in Netherlands concluded that disordered environments prompt people to be more goal-oriented. The findings suggested that since humans hardwired to seek order in our lives; when we're faced with physical chaos, we become all the more motivated to make sense of the clutter and chase clear, well-defined goals. Furthermore, the second part of the University of Minnesota research mentioned above found that those in messy spaces generated ideas that were significantly more creative, than those plugging away in offices where stacks of papers and other objects were neatly aligned. These arguments, must not be however used as excuses to remain an untidy and unorganised employee. Very few simple tips can help you change the chaos of your desk into your personal space of Zen:

Make Time: Set time – daily, weekly or fortnightly – to clean up your desk space. Spare a few minutes at the end of every day, or half an hour, if you are doing it fortnightly to avoid letting the pile grow. 

The 80% Rule: At all times, 80% of your desk and cabin floor must be visible. Trash the unused papers, move the bags and old receipts. Personal knick-knacks look good at a desk, but do not overdo. Use your drawers to store everything that is not used on a daily basis.

Clean the digital clutter: Clear your email periodically, and remove redundant files from time to time. Use labels, folders and markers for different projects and the several applications and tools to organise digital files and documents. This will save time by making the search for documents and information easier.

Remove Duplicates: You might have the same set of information on paper, mail and email inbox, which will lead to duplication of the same document several times, which in turn will be as much more difficult to manage. Handle information in a systematic manner so that they reach you through the medium based on their value. 

According to the National Association of Professional Organizations in America, paper clutter is the biggest problem for most businesses and an average person wastes 4.3 hours per week searching for papers. You will have to make time to be more organised and systematic, and consider it as important as a meeting or an appointment. A clean and organised desk might actually bring you a sense of balance and will save you time by making documents, files, stationary handy and accessible. After all, you spend a major part of your day at your desk – why not actually spend some time to organise and clear it?

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