How to get a clutter-free work space, why it matters and how to keep it that way

Published: February 17, 2020

In my office, it’s not usual to find a cat lounging across the keyboard (even on Skype once – that was an impressive feat).  Sometimes there’s even a dog on there too, but generally, I like to have a clear and organised working area if I want to work as effectively as possible.  In my pre-business owner days, I worked in enough offices to know that not everyone feels the same as me, with some people seemingly unfazed by two weeks’ worth of festering coffee cups cluttering the desk, along with reams of scribbled paper notes, dozens of chewed biros, and a liberal scattering of crumbs and food debris.

I’m just not sure how people can work like that (it makes me twitch and feel compelled to anti-bac my keyboard just thinking about that), especially when science supports seems to support the old ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’ adage.

  1. It’s healthier – 2008 research carried out by Consumer group Which? in their London offices found that of 33 keyboards tested, four were considered a potential health hazard and one had 150 times the recommended limit for bacteria (5 times more than a lavatory seat) and was so horrendous it was immediately removed, quarantined and deep cleaned. (BBC News) Even if you’re not sharing a keyboard in some kind of germ-filled hot-desking nightmare, it’s likely that your keyboard isn’t as clean and shiny as it might appear, and may be harbouring all kinds of nasties that are putting you at risk of illness. Wiping your keyboard, mouse and desk with a lightly dampened cloth to remove dust and debris, and then wiping down with alcohol wipes can help to make your desk less of a health hazard, as can a conveniently placed bottle of hand cleansing alcohol (don’t forget to take it networking with you too!).
  2. It’s easier to focus on the task at hand – 2011 research carried out by Stephanie McMains and Sabine Kastner (source) found that being in a cluttered environment makes it more difficult to focus, with the items strewn across our desks apparently all competing for our attention.  By removing unnecessary paper piles, old mugs, defunct pens and other non-essential clutter from your desk, you should find it easier to concentrate on your work.
  3. Need a little boost?  Sometimes, projects seem to go on and on forever; other times, you carry out the same tasks day-in, day-out with little variation (and little thanks!); on these days, a quick tidy and desk organisation session can give you a little bit of the instant gratification for a job well done that we all need every now and then – it’s immediately visible what you’ve done and the improvement that you have made, and should leave you feeling a little more positive than pre-desk tidy up.
  4. Video calls look more professional – if you regularly have Zoom or Skype calls with clients, it’s much nicer to have a clear backdrop behind you rather than stuff. Everywhere. Admittedly, if you’ve got a cat it’s almost guaranteed that they will join you at some point during the call to present their rear end to the camera, but as long as the backdrop for the rest of the call looks as professional as you are, that’s a good thing!
  5. It’s just easier to find things! Calls with potential clients or existing clients can be challenging enough without being able to find a.) a pen on your desk when you know you’ve got about 1500 in your office and b.) something to write on that has more than 1 square inch of space available on it. Important paper documents in some kind of filing system can also be a godsend, without you having to venture into that pile of unopened bills, junk mail and other ‘stuff’ that is gradually taking over the corner of the room… it’s okay, we’ve all got one of them somewhere!

So why not start your day off with a little desk spring clean? There are worse ways to spend half an hour or so (the Which? offices apparently being one of those…).