Why You Need To Declutter Your Workspace Today
We need to talk about clutter, and what to do with it. That stack of papers on your desk, that binder overflowing with documents, those dirty mugs in the sink… they may seem harmless, but they’re more than likely bringing down your mood and productivity.
We’ve arguably never had to think so much about how to manage our individual workspaces. In most offices the desks are uniform, storage space is provided and cleaning staff comes by regularly to wipe down surfaces and empty bins. But then came the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing millions of us to hastily set up makeshift workspaces in our homes - a spare bedroom, an empty desk, one end of the dining room table. It was ok to wing it for a while, but with the work-from-home era now set to stay, it’s vital to create an environment that is supportive of your mental well-being and productivity.
This brings us back to clutter. You’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo - the Japanese organizing consultant became a cultural phenomenon in 2019 as she encouraged people to declutter their homes and their souls in a popular Netflix show. The ‘Marie Kondo effect’ has been credited with everything from a surge in donations to charity shops to growing interest in minimalist living and tiny houses. But the core message is simple: a tidy environment can bring you more peace, happiness and fulfillment. And when it comes to our workspaces, Kondo says that tidiness can help us stay focused, organized and motivated in our jobs.
How does clutter affect our work performance?
Taking on clutter and chaos in the workspace is not just about joining the latest lifestyle trend. According to a study by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), disorganization from employees can lead to financial losses equivalent to 10% of a manager’s salary. So how does clutter impact on work performance and productivity?
At the most basic level, a disorderly workspace can cost us time. When you have to spend several minutes going through piles of paper to get your hands on an important document, you’re wasting time and energy that could be spent on something more productive. Worse still, a really messy workspace will increase the risk that important documents are lost altogether. If you’re working from home, a piece of paper left lying around could easily end up being accidentally thrown away or defaced by the kids.
Beyond this, numerous studies point to the negative impact of clutter on our mental performance and well-being. For example, having too many objects in our field of vision can affect our ability to stay focused. Our eyes are drawn to different stimuli, taking our attention away from the task at hand and draining our cognitive resources. One study even showed that increased background clutter makes it harder for us to correctly interpret the facial expressions and emotions of movie actors.
Over time, living and working with clutter can increase anxiety and stress, affecting our quality of sleep and undermining our ability to perform at our best. Research has shown that people who feel ‘overwhelmed’ by the clutter in their surroundings are more likely to procrastinate and develop ‘avoidance’ mechanisms (like watching tv or using social media), issues that can become particularly problematic if we’re working from home and don’t have the natural pressure of being seen by coworkers and managers. Other work has suggested that people in these messy environments may develop unhealthy eating habits, which in turn will impact their cognitive abilities.
Having a messy desk can also affect how others perceive our work ability. Staffing firm Adecco found that a majority of Americans (57%) admit to judging coworkers by how clean or dirty they keep their workspaces. Another study revealed that an unity workspace may lead to colleagues thinking we are less conscientious or agreeable, potentially harming our professional relationships.
Tips for staying on top of clutter
There are enough reasons - backed by scientific research - to want to keep your workspace clean and organized. It’s something that has always been important to us at Jobsity, with remote working part of our corporate DNA. So here are a few tips to help you create the optimal working environment for you, wherever you find yourself as you clock in.
Start with a purge. Take out everything you have in your regular workspace and go through each item. For things that you need to use every day, allocate a space that is easy to access. Other objects that you need from time to time can be stored somewhere else, out of your immediate sight but easy to reach when required. Ask yourself whether you really need other things that you rarely ever use, or the stuff you forgot you even had - if not, relieve yourself of them. Follow this up with a digital cleanse, decluttering your computer of emails, files and folders that you don’t need and re-organizing those that you do.
Make a dedicated space, and mark clear boundaries. The blurring of the lines between work and home can be mentally challenging. Creating artificial boundaries helps us separate the professional and personal spaces within our homes. One idea is to do something to mark the start and end of the workday - a short walk can act like a ‘commute’, a closed door can signal to family members that you’re now ‘at work’. If you don’t have a dedicated home office, then you could keep all your work gear in a box or tray that is each to pack and unpack when you transition between work and leisure. Remember, while we’re aiming to boost our productivity at work, it’s just as important to avoid work-related distractions when you’re on your own time.
Keep a minimalist desk. In general, it’s a good idea to remove any objects that are not related to your work from your desk to limit distractions. However, one or two personal items might be helpful in elevating your mood. Marie Kondo suggests picking one object that sparks joy when you see it - a cherished photo or a plant, perhaps. Just avoid the temptations to have too many odds and ends in your field of vision. And at the end of each day, it’s a good idea to make a ritual of reorganizing your desk so that new clutter doesn’t start building up and you can fully switch off.
Stay Comfortable. You can’t be productive if your back is sore, or you’re too hot/cold. If working from home is going to be a regular thing for you even post-pandemic, then it’s worth investing in a good quality chair and (if possible) a larger monitor and ergonomic keyboard/mouse. Whatever equipment you use, make sure your monitor is at eye level and a comfortable distance from your body. Ideally, your workspace will receive lots of natural light and have a steady airflow - if it doesn’t, think about getting a good desk lamp and fan.
Our extended network of remote developers and software engineers are always finding new ways to create a more balanced and productive work environment, so if you want more tips about clearing clutter from your desk and mind, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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