I have a good friend who is a senior executive with a very large (and highly successful) company. When he and I started working together years ago, I noticed that whenever I walked into his office, his desk was completely clean.
No inbox overrun with papers, no folders stacked up in the corner, no post-it notes with reminders laying around, nothing but a clean desk. Even his credenza had only framed pictures of his family and friends, and a few business books neatly placed between bookends.
It was so clean I actually teased him about it, asking him if he ever did any work.
His response surprised me. “It’s company policy,” he said. “Those of us at the senior executive level are only allowed to have the items on our desk which we are working on at that particular moment. This demonstrates to the rest of the company the level of organization and control expected of our position.” Over time, I met more of his colleagues at the same level and position, and I repeatedly saw exactly what he described.
This inspired me to do the same. If you go into my office, you won’t find much but a clean desk and maybe a Florida gator head or two. I have found great benefit in working at a completely clean desk, with the exception of what I’m currently working on. Here’s a few of the greatest advantages I’ve discovered by applying this method to my work:
Clutter is distracting. I’m easily able to focus on the important tasks when I don’t have the distraction from other things in sight. If I was working on finances and had a stack of documents that needed to be reviewed, I wouldn’t be able to give my full attention to the finances. Justseeing papers and a long to-do list creates a constant reminder in my head that it needs to be done. Not only does that build up stress, I lose my focus, costing me time. I recommend keeping other files and lists in a drawer. That way, you can access it but it’s not staring at you the entire day. Take it out when you are working on it, if you’re not, put it back in the drawer.
Communicates Professionalism or Improved Impressions
First impressions are essential. As are lasting impressions. A super cluttered workspace can communicate the wrong message. Maintaining a clean workspace is the perfect way to show you are highly organized, productive, and gives the impression that you take pride in your space. Having a clean and tidy workspace can also be more welcoming to potential clients and coworkers.
You already have enough to think and stress about at work. Figuring out where you put something in a cluttered space will just increase the stress. A messy workspace promotes distractions and produces feelings of being overwhelmed. I look at stacks of paper and sticky notes as stressors. Physically clearing your space will in turn clear your mind. Don’t add more stress to your workday.
We are all guilty of letting disorganization creep in. There are times I look around my own office and realize I have allowed things to get out of control. When this happens, I start cleaning, and find that the majority of the clutter is no longer relevant and easily filed away, or better yet, tossed out completely.
Back to my friend, the senior executive with the clean desk. He shared with me another secret about his company. When considering candidates for promotions and elevation within the company, one of the first things they do, he said, is to look at the candidate’s workspace.
Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts and via his blog.