Are you ‘guilty’ of having a cluttered workspace?
I have to admit, my desk doesn’t look at its best right now. That’s maybe exactly why I came across these studies at the Princeton University that suggest that a cluttered workspace means a cluttered brain.
Professor Sabine Kastner has been researching attention for 20 years and came to the conclusion, that “visual clutter competes with our brain’s ability to pay attention and tires out our cognitive functions over time“.
How does your desk look right now?
- Do you have receipts laying around everywhere?
- Do you have stacks and stacks of paperwork that screams for your attention?
- Are there bills to pay and flyers to recycle and important contracts to sign all mixed up together?
- Do you have lots of knick-knacks and other stuff to the left and right of your computer screen?
- Are there dirty mugs and plates from eating breakfast or lunch in front of the computer?
Clutter impacts your energy levels. According to these studies, our brain may not be good at blocking out clutter. The more objects in the visual field, the harder our brain has to work to filter them out. This is causing our brain to tire over time and reduces its ability to function.
So when you work in a cluttered workspace you might be fighting an unnecessary uphill battle. Professor Kastner’s suggestion is, that taking a few minutes to tidy your environment can lead to more productivity.
And isn’t that what we all want, more focus and productivity?
Let’s do it!
Clear your cluttered workspace
In Permaculture Zones are used as a method for correct placement and positioning of things and plants in ways that are the most appropriate. What works so well in Gardening is also a good way to organize your workspace. While Permaculture Design uses 6 Zones (Zone 0 – 5) we will organize our workspace with only 5 zones, Zones 0 – 4.
Think of zones like a series of concentric rings moving out from a center point where your activity is most concentrated, further and further outward to where there is no need for activity.
In Permaculture, that is the house or home center, in your workspace, Zone 0 is your desk, more specifically the work surface of your desk.
Remember, for the sake of your brain, you don’t want a cluttered workspace. On the contrary, you want to create a harmonious environment to work in which usually means less is more. Ideally only have the bare minimum on your desk surface, laptop, phone, a lamp and maybe an Inbox, put everything else in other Zones. When you work on a project or task you have the files and things related to that task on your desk surface, as soon as you are done with that task these things and files move back to another zone where they belong.
This is the rest of your desk, like desk drawers or shelves if you have them. These are the locations for those things and files you use frequently, e.g., files of tasks and projects that you are using on a daily basis, pens and markers, rulers, hole punch, stapler, calculator etc if these are things you use several times daily.
The idea is to have everything to work productive handy and without having to get up, but not having these items cluttering up your desk surface. After using them put them back in the place they belong to keep your desk surface as clear and clean as possible.
This area is used for items and files that you require less frequently but still daily, such as printer/fax/scanner, shredder, this year’s paperwork in binders or hanging files, reference books or other files you use regularly. This zone might be already a little further away from your desk but if you have a chair with wheels you’d still don’t have to get up for them.
Is the area where the majority of your things and files are stored and you have to get up to get to them. This is fine because a) getting up from your desk once in a while is healthy and b) these are things you don’t really need on a constant basis. Therefore getting up for them will not interrupt your workflow but will be a welcome interruption (Stretch a little while you are up). I have last years files there in binders or hanging files, additional office supplies, extra toner cartridges for my printers, and some reference books.
This might be a shelf or closet on the other side of your office, in another room, the attic or the garage. Here you keep prior years paperwork and files that you legally need to keep. In your day-to-day workflow, you don’t have to be able to access these files so it’s fine and makes sense that they are further away.
To prevent that the clutter creeps back into your workspace spend every evening 5-10 minutes to put everything back in its place if you haven’t done so during the day. This way you start the next day fresh and with a clean desk
With this organization and by only having on your desk what you are working on you don’t get distracted and your brain does not have to work extra hard blocking out items that are unrelated to the task at hand. Try it out and let me know in the comments below what your experiences are.