Clear the Clutter – Open Your Mind!

Is your desk a disaster area? Desk clutter creates stress, confusion, and cuts down on your productivity. It is estimated that people waste and average of 30 minutes per day searching for papers – that translates into 10 hours per month or a whole 3 weeks per year of unproductive time!

  1. Take everything off your desk and out of your drawers. This is very satisfying as you have a quick win by being able to see your desk in two minutes!
  2. Give your desk a good clean. Make sure you remove all the dirt that has been lurking in those darkened corners.
  3. Get a large, strong bag and start dumping! Put all your papers in one big pile, and start to “divide and conquer.” Remove large items such as catalogues and manuals. Are they out of date? Do you really need them? If the answer is YES, they should go in a filing cabinet. Over 80% of your paper pile can probably be thrown out. The only papers you should keep on your desk are the ones that you are actively working on, so make a file for each topic and keep all the papers together. Anything else should be thrown out or filed for future reference / audit purposes.
  4. Start putting the equipment back on your desk. PC, Printer, telephone, fresh pad of paper and a holder with your pens, pencils, stapler, paperclips etc. Keep only what you use every day – the rest can be put in a drawer or filing cabinet within easy reach. Get rid of everything that doesn’t work, is broken or that you never use. How many pens and pencils do you have on your desk? How many can you use at any one time? If you aren’t sure whether or not something belongs on your desk, ask yourself the following questions:
    1. Do I like this item?
    2. Is this item useful?
    3. Does it belong on my desk?
    4. If the answer is NO, then remove it from your desk.
  5. How many calendars & address books do you have? If possible, you should have just ONE place where you keep your contacts and appointments. It could be on your PC (Outlook, ACT, Goldmine, etc.), personal organizer or a paper-based system. Just use whatever works for you.
  6. Personal items. How many photos, toys, and awards do you have on your desk? Keep them to a minimum as they can be distractions – one or two at most.
  7. The surface of your desk is NOT a storage area. Keep it clear apart from the few things that you use daily.
  8. Always have a waste paper basket by your desk. When printed matter arrives on your desk, ask yourself the following questions: Do I need / want this? Is it too late to action this? Could someone else use this information? Would it change my life if I threw it away? 80% of papers that you file will never be looked at again. Why not throw things away instead of filing them?
  9. A simple filing system:
    1. ACTION – ongoing work should be categorized into topics, with one file per topic to keep papers together.
    2. TODAY – things to work on today
    3. TO FILE – this can be kept under your desk and out of the way. Set aside time to file each week, and only file papers that you really need to keep. Bin the rest.
    4. TO READ – magazines, articles, etc., that you want to read. Set aside time each week to read. If the pile just keeps on getting bigger, set a time limit for keeping these items, and then bin them. If it is important information, you will find the time to read it. (Stop re-cluttering areas that you have already cleared, and you will soon limit the spaces where clutter gathers.)
    5. BIN – before throwing junk mail away, get yourself removed from the mailing list if you no longer need the information.
  10. By now, your desk should be looking pretty empty – good work! That was the easy bit. At the end of every day, give yourself 10 – 15 minutes to tidy your desk. When you come to your clean desk each morning, you will no longer waste time looking for things or rearranging the mess.
Congratulations on clearing your desk!
Don’t forget to give yourself a reward.


Submitted by Chrissie Slade, who can be reached at, or visited on the web at Copyright 1997, 98, 99, by Coach U, all rights reserved.