Today is National Clean Off Your Desk Day. Yes, there’s a “day” for everything lately. But it got me thinking about how many people don’t keep a clean desk. Maybe for some people, they like to work in their own version of organized chaos. But not me, I just can’t do it. I have to have a clean desk to be able to get anything done. At previous jobs, I had to share a desk with a coworker and it did not end well. I keep my desk very clean and organized, and my coworker didn’t. Every morning I would have to spend my first 5 minutes putting things away and getting organized before I could even start.
Clean Desk Policy
There are companies that are starting to make guidelines on having a clean desk, called their Clean Desk Policy. For the most part, this seems to be a set of rules on how your desk should look at the end of the workday. They aren’t saying you have to work in a certain way or have your desk set up a certain way throughout the day. By the time you are done working and are ready to head home, your desk should be cleaned off. I think this is a brilliant idea. There are a lot of workplaces that employees have to share desk and work areas, especially when the jobs are part-time. It would help to have every desk set up the same, so no matter where you sit, you know where everything is and have the same workflow.
Part of the Clean Desk Policy is to make sure to clean your desk off nightly. I do this with my desk at home. When I am shutting down the computer for the day, I make sure that my pens are put away, notebook and calendar in their place, trash is thrown out, water cup taken to the kitchen, etc. Justin tends to keep a slightly messier desk than me, he usually leaves his notebook open to the page he is on and his calendar on the desk. Even still, his desk area looks tidy, just not completely cleaned off. I find that cleaning my desk at night lets me start fresh in the morning.
This isn’t as much of a problem when working from home like we are, but can be a major issue in other workplaces. For example, when I worked at a doctor office we had training semiannually on HIPAA laws and sensitive material and how to handle it. Without cleaning your desk off in the evening, you may be leaving potentially sensitive material and information laying on the desk. In a large setting, such as a bank or hospital, I’m sure there are some things that only higher-ups are allowed to know. If these are laying around, then anyone can see them. Especially at a hospital where you have non-employees in there all the time. By keeping a clean desk, you can assure that nothing is left lying around that could put your job or others in jeopardy.
One way to keep a clean desk is to digitize everything. You can’t leave paper laying around if you don’t have any paper to begin with! When I worked at the doctor’s office, everything was scanned into a patient’s chart, and then the paper copy was shredded. Not only does this help keep a clean desk, but it also makes it easier to find things. Imagine a desk cluttered with paper and someone asks you to find a particular note. You start to dig and a few minutes later find it. Or maybe it got lost in all the clutter. When it’s digital, you can store it in folders that describe what it is, and also give it a name that is searchable.
Making everything digital not only helps you find what you need but also helps others who may need access to the same information. Again, going back to working at the doctor’s office, when we switched everything from paper charts to electronic charts, no one had to run around the office trying to find a chart if a patient called in. There were so many people who could have that chart for hundreds of reasons. Now they just have to search the patient’s name and can find everything at their fingertips.
It can be stressful to work in a messy area. Say the boss calls you and needs you in their office in 2 minutes with a report that you know you did, but it wasn’t filed or digitized. Now you can’t find it. Stressful. Stress then leads to less concentration as well which decreases your productivity. Studies done by the National Association of Professional Organizations show the average person wastes 4.3 hours per week searching for missing information. I’m sure some of that is missing files on the computer, but most of that is missing paperwork. And executives waste an entire hour per day. That’s a lot of time to be stressing over what was lost and not getting more productive activities done.
So you know you want a clean, organized work area, but how do you achieve that? There are multiple ways to do it, but here’s where I start:
- Set aside some time to tackle your desk. It may take a couple hours, depending on how messy your desk is.
- Go through everything on the desk and make multiple piles.
- Keep: the things that you have to have at your desk to be able to get your job done
- File: anything that you can file in folders, in a filing cabinet, in a drawer, etc.; usually paperwork that you use often
- Put Away: everything that can be put away somewhere else such as extra supplies
- Scan: what can be scanned into the computer and made digital?
- Trash: does this really need an explanation?
- Repeat step 2 with any drawers and cabinets. It’s not just the top of your desk that needs to be organized to help with productivity
- Limit yourself to only 3 personal items at your desk to lower distractions.
- Use vertical storage. If you need multiple folders on your desk daily, get a vertical file holder. This will help you be able to see them all and helps prevent your desk from getting covered with stacks of paper and folders.
- Make sure your desk is also ergonomically set up to decrease the chance of injury.
- Check that this is all done every evening when you are done working. Throw out any trash, scan anything that needs to be scanned in. Put away any extra supplies you may have needed for the day.
To give an example, here is my desk and what everything is:
I keep all my pens, pencils, paperclips, highlighters…… all my other “office supplies” in the drawers of the desk. I grab out what I need, when I need it, then put it away. Some of my motivation for a clean desk is so the little hands here can’t grab anything, but mostly, I can’t work in a mess. My kitchen has to be clean before I can cook. My desk has to be tidy before I can sit down to work on anything. It’s just part of who I am and I have learned that I am most productive when everything is clean and put away because then I am not wasting my time searching for something.