Four Steps to a Clear Desk

This is a guest post by Helen Joy Butler

How’s your paperwork process at the moment?  Is it a streamlined machine, with inboxes, outboxes, in-between boxes and more colour coding than a spring garden?  Or it is a pile of this, a pile of that, another pile of whatever, with to-do’s strewn all over the place?  Or somewhere in between?

The debate around having an organised desk and workspace has been in the news again recently in a study published by Kathleen Vohs, a behavioural scientist at the University of Minnesota. The study, published in Psychological Science found that having an organised desk is good if your primary goal is to make healthy and conventional choices (like eating well or going to the gym) but if you need to work on a creative project a disorganised space will help your imagination and creativity blossom.

So I suppose the question to ask yourself is – which do you need to do?  I know in my job I switch between mundane tasks and creativity overload.  I will admit that when I am having a creative burst my desk seems to explode around me.  I’m not sure if it gets messy because I’m creating, or has to be messy to fuel my creativity.  Maybe it’s the chicken and egg thing?

Either way, if you’re goal is to make healthy and conventional choices, and you’re sick of staring at your paperwork pile, it’s time to get in and make sense of it all!

Step 1 – Take everything off

Your desk or workspace that is! Every little piece of paper, all your pens, the lamp, phone, newspaper, kids toys, used lunch bowl, coffee cup, water bottle, candle – everything!  I’m happy for you to leave your computer on there – but only if it’s a massive desktop computer and is too heavy to move easily!

While you’re taking things out of this space take time to do a good sort of what you’re holding.  Make piles on the floor or table close by according to what your paper pile has buried in it. You might find items such as invoices/bills, stationery, technology, kids toys, discount vouchers, school notes, artwork, ongoing projects – or any other number of things!  Work out the large groupings and make piles for each – this will make it easier for you when you get to Step 4.

Step 2 – Look long and hard at your piles – and make a decision

This can be tough but everything in this space has to earn its keep.  If you need something close at hand – for example your computer, printer, phone, basic stationery, working and/or project files – these are the things that should be on, near or within arms reach of your workspace.

If the item just can’t earn its keep in this space it has to find another home!

Step 3 – Time to put it all back

This is the fun part.  Be creative if you can – just because something lived in one spot for the last however many years doesn’t mean it has to live there this time around.

You may find you need some organising supplies, for example a step file, desk topper or stationery holder, to make the best use of the space.  Work this out now and if you like write it on your product wish list – but make sure the product does what you want it to do before you spend your hard earned money on it!  Remember this item too has to earn its keep!

Step 4 – Dealing with all the rest

So now you have a gorgeous desk or bench space – but what about the piles and piles of other stuff on the floor, dining table or kitchen bench?  Sorry but there’s no other way but to actually look at it, make a decision on what to do with it all and then find it a home.

Firstly start with the paperwork. Decide what you need to keep and file it in your filing cabinet, lever arch folders or carry case.  Anything with your personal details on it should be shredded; the rest can go in the recycling bin.

And what about all those extra pens, pencils and other stationery items? Put a small supply of them in this work area so you can easily grab what you need and store the rest away in drawers, a storage box or cupboard (organised beautifully of course!).

Put the toys away, throw the rubbish out, return all the other items to where they’re meant to live – and viola! Your workspace is yours again!

Take action now!

Happiness is a very small desk and a very big wastebasket – Robert Orben

Take some time today to start to tackle a little bit of your paperwork pile. Start with that small pile on the kitchen bench, dining table or entry table. Just ten minutes today, and the next, and the next will make a huge difference.  And in no time you’ll get your paperwork under control.

Helen Joy Butler – work with busy women, to help them reconnect with their life purpose all through the concept of sanctuary.  Find Helen here.


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Laura May 16, 2014 - 6:45 PM

Beautiful coincidence that this was posted today – my task for the day is to tidy my desk!

Miss Maudy May 19, 2014 - 4:02 PM

Lordy… my desk!

At home, I work off the dining table which, as it needs to be cleared for meals, never gets that bad. My desk at work however… dirty cutlery, some crockery, a report that I dropped (only 135 pages to restore to order). It will probably only take me 15 minutes to sort out.

Kaz May 20, 2014 - 10:26 AM

Definitely need this advice today. My desk is a culmination of my art shop, PhD study and mailing supplies. Everything is here at the moment. Going to give this a try today and see how I go! 🙂

JessB May 25, 2014 - 8:02 PM

Eep, how did you know I have piles of paperwork all over the house?! I actually want to sell my desk, which I don’t use that often any more (because it’s covered with stuff), so I simply have to get rid of all of the things.

I’m already imaging what I can do with that space, so that is spurring me on.

Marie T Chandler June 17, 2014 - 4:08 AM

This is great motivation. I do like to tidy my desk – to clear my brain and my desk. I like scanning any of those papers that I want to keep but am not sure why, then they are digital and can be filed away till I need them. I also found old gift boxes and tupperware are brilliant for storing the extra pens and stationery in my desk drawer – it can make it bright as well as organised! My husband has even caught the declutter bug since I have been dropping hints from your site Helen – thank you! 🙂

Kate August 18, 2016 - 1:28 PM

Yay!! This is awesome! I have been trying to tidy/organise and de-clutter my desk for ages! I’m definitely in need of making more healthy eating and gym choices haha.
I’ve been going about it all wrong! I should start with what I want it to look like, rather than working with (re-piling) what I have! 🙂 Thanks!

Katrina - The Organised Housewife August 20, 2016 - 3:01 PM

love it Kate, let me know how you go 🙂

Karen September 9, 2017 - 2:27 PM

I’d love some tips on filing systems and what to keep / what to scan / systems for filing e.g kids or bills. Thanks

Katrina - The Organised Housewife September 11, 2017 - 11:24 AM

Hi Karen, I have a few different blogs that you may be interested in looking at.
Here is a link to 3 that I thought could be helpful


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