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How to Beat Clutter, Productivity’s Worst Enemy

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Clutter is in the eye of the beholder. What may seem like a messy desk (or life) to one person, may feel like "just the right amount" of stuff to another. But what studies are showing is that when you clutter up your life too much, productivity can suffer. So whether it's your desk or your to-do list that's too full, take a moment to edit and you could find your life and career running more smoothly.

Clutter is in the eye of the beholder. What may seem like a messy desk (or life) to one person, may feel like “just the right amount” of stuff to another. But what studies are showing is that when you clutter up your life too much, productivity can suffer. So whether it’s your desk or your to-do list that’s too full, take a moment to edit and you could find your life and career running more smoothly.

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(Photo Credit: David Martyn Hunt/Flickr)

1. It’s OK to Have Some Stuff

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We’re not saying you need to work in a sterile white box. As impersonal as your cube farm is, it’s still probably chock full of personal touches and various “efficiency” schemes from the nearest business supply store. Don’t use that file organizer? Chuck it! Find that you use really just one pen at a time? Get rid of that cup of stuff! Love your favorite mug? Why have more than one?

This goes for the home office as well. Don’t feel like you need to recreate the chaos of the real world when you’re really just fine with a laptop and the kitchen table. Look, edit, and find your happy place.

2. Your Work Stream Is Also “Stuff”

Clutter doesn’t end with the physical world. If you’re multitasking, you’re also cluttering up your workday. We all likely have some varied number of responsibilities but when you’re overloaded to the point of breaking on a regular basis, that’s no good. Take some honest assessments of what’s working and what could be handed off and talk to your higher-ups about how you can work better with some tweaks. They’ll want you as productive as possible, too, trust us.

3. De-cluttering Means Constant Assessment and Reassessment

Just like your room as a kid, your workspace can get messy in a heartbeat. Don’t turn a blind eye on it, but instead be vigilant against the dreaded re-cluttering. Maybe mark the first day of the month (or the last) as your assigned day to check on the state of your desk, job, or world. Take a good look and see what’s working, and what’s disposable. (And when you’re done, give that desktop and keyboard a good clean, would you?)

4. Giving Up Stuff Can Hurt

Look, it’s hard to give up stuff. Studies have actually shown we hurt in our brains when we give up things. But just because something’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Start off with slow, incremental changes, instead of sweeping ones, and you can take the sting out of it a bit.

5. Don’t Forget Virtual Stuff

If you were to close all your programs and look at your screen, what would you see? Do you have a clear shot at your desktop image, or are there a million tiny boxes blocking your view? Just like as you might strive for “inbox zero,” or a clean desk, it’s also important to not clutter up your screen. Delete those downloaded .jpgs you emailed last month, file away that expense report spreadsheet, clean out those apps and games you downloaded but never use. You won’t miss them.

When it comes down to it, we all just want to be as productive and happy as possible. Whether you’re doing it for your own sanity or your co-workers’, make it a habit to de-clutter, and you’ll find yourself a bit lighter in many ways.

Tell Us What You Think

How messy is your desk? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Tracey
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Tracey

I’m a labeller. Each pile has a sticker above, ie. To do, pending, functions, HR, surgeons, h&s. Each pile has a particular color l-shapec pocket for sets of docs. Works well. There is research that multitasking is not efficient. You are best to complete one task quickly and calmly rather than jump chaotically between multiple tasks. Stacker trays are great; can go sky-high!

David
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David

My desk is a nightmare. I clear it up from time to time but I am not viligant and the mess comes back in no time. I’ll try what you suggest. Interesting the studies you mention that throwing out things “hurts in your brain”. I’m not sure what that means exactly but it’s an explanation as to why decluttering can be difficult. Thank you.

Elmer
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Elmer

I feel good in my apparent disorder, because I know I am multitasking, and I love my job. I love to do 2 or 3 tasks, assingments, calls, texts, emails or speak at a same time.
I feel like a fish in the water when I work under pressure.
I don’t like an unestressed job.
It looks odd, but I like it.
At my home I like the order, everything in their place. I come home and do all the things that I have to do before take a shower, eat and rest.
This is me.

Rajeev
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Rajeev

Great !

Only Idea of getting rid of clutter on my table / screen gives so much relief. It must be very productive , if I do it actually. Promised myself to clear it and make a note to do it every month.

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