You know the saying: tidy house, tidy mind. The same goes for your desk. A clear and organised workspace equals less visual clutter and distractions, which in turn allows for more brain space to get on with your work. It’s hardly a groundbreaking notion, but it’s one that sometimes gets forgotten as the paperwork mountains begin to rise and form over desks across the globe.
Some jobs require a physical paper trail that’s hard to keep on top of, whereas others might be more digital-focused, and it’s less of a paper tower that you’re creating and more of a Pret A Manger porridge pot one.
Some of us might have no designated desk space in our roles, others might have their own office (check you out!). Maybe you’ve got your own cubicle, or you hotdesk, or perhaps you make up the “work from home and only see the postman during your working day” contingent (that’s me).
However your job is set up, the chances are that you’ll have some kind of workspace, and in order to instil some good basic habits into your work routine and Monday-to-Friday grind, it’s a good idea to start with sorting your space so that it’s set up in the most practical way for you and your role, with minimal distractions so you can ward off your midafternoon YouTube rabbit hole. This is the key to having an edited, organised working life.
The one-hour desk spring clean routine
1 – Clear your desk
You’ll notice when we get to the “get rid of all your s**t” chapter in my book, that I’m a big fan of making one gigantic pile at the beginning of a clear-out session. Get it out. Toss it into a heap and let the clear-out commence. Your physical reaction to seeing all your desk belongings in one place will most probably be one of dismay, plus the act of clearing your desk to be completely free of stuff means that you can actually give it a spring clean while you’re at it.
2 – Plenty of piles
Organise your office clutter by sorting it into piles.
PAPERWORK. Place your paperwork into one of three piles: one that’s junk and ready to be recycled, another for paperwork that you have to keep and can’t be digitally stored for some reason (perhaps contracts that need to be signed or client files that must be stored manually), and a pile for paperwork that would be best suited to being scanned into your laptop in PDF format (basically everything else).
DECORATIVE STUFF. (that you don’t even like the look of!). Got any knick-knacks that are just making the joint look messy and aren’t bringing you any joy to look at? Bin ’em immediately.
THINGS YOU ACTUALLY USE. Reserve this pile for things that you find yourself using often – at least once a week – that it makes sense to have within arm’s reach.
THINGS YOU DON’T. Group together items that could be donated or handed off to fellow employees (things like reading material you no longer need or office supplies you never really use).
3 – Re-jig your layout
Ready for a rule? Here’s a little tiny one that’s easy to abide by, doesn’t make me sound like an absolute tyrant and will help keep your newly clean and organised desk in check. If it’s an item that you use in some capacity every single working day, then it’s allowed to be in close proximity – either tucked away or neatly displayed on your desk. If it’s not something that you use every day, Monday to Friday, then it must be stored in some way.
Test it out for a week or so. If there’s anything that you’re having to heave yourself up for and traipse to the other side of the room to retrieve, then re-jig and reorganise until you’re at a place where the only reason you need to get up is to grab your mid-morning croissant, not because you need a pen.
4 – Sort out storage
I’m not normally a fan of sourcing storage before you know exactly what’s going in it, as you tend to just fill it with s**t for the sake of it, but you’ve done the groundwork here.
From your final pile of things you use often, you might find that you need some storage solutions. Perhaps a set of drawers next to your desk will come in useful to keep those files you need to keep organised and easy to find.
Or maybe a little stationery holder for your pens and paperclips? A pencil case! An accordion file! A paper tray! You get the gist here. Office clichés they might be, but they actually do come in handy for keeping a desk orderly and organised, and having these helping hands in place and giving all your items a proper home will lessen the chance of the Leaning Tower of Paper making a reappearance.
My desk essentials
I go into a lot more detail about this in the book; it’s not really a classical Bullet Journal that I use here, but it’s just that I just use some of the techniques to help me plan and schedule. I do have the actual hardcopy of the notebook that they sell (seriously, a dotted notebook will change your life). I travel everywhere with it as it holds all my editorial plans and daily to-do lists.
Despite being an actual stationery nerd I only own a few items because I know that cute covered notebooks are my hoarding weak spot, so I try not to even seek them out in the first place.
I keep a blue ballpoint pen out, along with a pair of scissors, a ruler (handy for organisation in the Bullet Journal), a pack of post-its, a pink and a yellow highlighter to decipher between different things in my journal, and that’s it. See? Stationery streamlined? CHECK.
I don’t keep much physical reading material out on my desk because 80 per cent of what I read comes from online these days. However, there’s often some kind of self-help “GO GIRL – YOU CAN DO THIS” book that I’m working through that I like to keep out on my desk. As I read through these I like to post-it the pages that I think I’ll find helpful at some point. They probably break the “must use every day” rule, but I do tend to have a flick through at least once a week to reference a point or to get advice on something I’m working on.
Everything that I do workwise is stored online or “up there” (pointing to the sky but with no idea how it all works). Rarely there might be a contract I have to sign physically or a form I need to fill out and so I keep those out on display slap-bang centre of my desk so that I’m more likely to complete them ASAP.
I know we’re talking about desk essentials here, but aside from my desk, my home office spot includes a couple of other basics. I have a printer hidden as best as I can under my desk (try making a printer chic – it’s impossible!), a padded office chair that swivels (a swivel chair is MUST, mostly just because it’s fun) and a desk light which comes in extremely handy in the winter months when it gets dark at 3pm, plus it makes nice mood lighting for when the office doubles up as a second bedroom for guests.
Extracted from An Edited Life by Anna Newton (Quadrille, £16.99), out now