Last time, we looked at the basic preparation you need to take care of in order to give yourself a fighting chance of maintaining a clear desk policy. If you haven’t had a chance to read or implement those suggestions, then do go back and do so now. Assuming that you have, read on…
For a permanently tidy desk – store as much as you can out of sight
You should now have an (albeit temporarily) tidy desk with only your laptop, lamp, phone and in-trays on it. Try to avoid leaving other clutter out, such as pen pots, staplers and hole punches as much as you can, because doing that will make your task harder. Put these items in your first desk drawer where they’re easily at hand. Next, I recommend placing your computer to one side of your desk, rather than smack bang in the middle of it. I know computer manufacturers would like us to think it’s the only tool we ever use, but that’s not quite true yet, and it probably won’t ever be! You need some clear space for thinking and taking notes or spreading your work out.
How to go from a temporarily tidy desk to a permanently tidy one
So, right now, your desk is tidy. In fact you may have got to this point many, many times before. But it’s not going to stay that way without the golden rule, and this is it.
Deal with one project/issue/email/letter at a time. Don’t put it down until you complete it (or whatever stage of it you’re working on) and can put it away in the appropriate storage place for it immediately.
Don’t try to multitask
Don’t try to concentrate on two issues at once. Don’t do something halfway and vow to come back to it later, leaving it out on your desk as a reminder. Don’t skip through your in-tray cherry picking (unless you’re looking for a particular piece of work that is more urgent than the rest, and which can’t wait). These are all inefficient ways of working.
How to work so that maintaining a tidy desk feels natural
Do pick a piece of work up, however small, and stick to it like glue until it’s done, replacing it in the appropriate place when it’s finished. Only then should you allow another piece of work to cross your desk, with all its attendant paraphernalia. If you do this religiously, then the only thing on your desk all day, will be the thing you’re currently working on, and you’ll be able to concentrate on it much more effectively. Last thing at night, you’ll replace the last papers in their file as you finish your last task, and put the light out on a clean desk. No special effort required…
If you’re a messy creative person and have problems keeping your desk clear of the multiple projects you’re working on, try reading the home office chapter of ‘Organizing for Creative People’. It’ll show you how to keep track of everything with no effort at all.