Photo by  John Pearson @ from home has fast become the reality for many of us in this 24/7 business world. Meeting deadlines often means the home work-desk is a staple of many people’s livings spaces. Whether in an office, in the bedroom or squished in next to the family couch.

The benefits of segregating work space from living have long been established (so I won’t bore you rehash of that particular conversation.) However, the reality is that when I work from home, work and home inevitably blur together, whether I like it or not. It seems to me that I am inevitably attempting to work around a collection of papers, projects and miscellaneous objects. Quite frankly, it stresses me out.

This is the part where would I tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way, that you, like me, can have a truly spotless workspace at all times if you just follow steps 1, 2, and 3. Sorry to disappoint, but this is not that article.

Spotlessness is a utopian dream I’ve long failed to achieve.

What have I learnt, however, is to accept and maximise what I call functional desk mess.

The benefits of this are threefold:

  • I can achieve a relatively clear work space.
  • I can do it in under 5 minutes.
  • It’s simple enough I can do it after a long day at work.

It’s all about the initial set up. Look at what ends up on your desk. Is it mail? Paperwork? Rubbish? Depending on your answer, you’ll need to set up differently. I’ll outline a few key things that help me.

The Set Up

  • You’ll need a trusty recycle bin. Work related detritus is often paper based, so make sure your recycle bin is near by. I like to put mine next to my office rubbish bin.
  • Get 2 to 3 empty magazine holders. An In-tray is great, unless you actually have a lot of paper, at which point it becomes a vague and unsearchable stack of A4. I find the vertical nature of magazine holders allows easier access to documents. It also takes up less real estate.
  • A box organisational supplies. When you need things sorted fast, you’re going to need the right supplies. I keep a small box under my desk with all kinds of folders, binders and plastic sheets so that, when the time comes, sorting things away is a simple affair.

If you’ve got your set up, you’re ready for the technique. I call it the Stop and Sweep.

The Stop and Sweep

  1. Quantify and separate the items. Important documents? In a pile. Rubbish? In a pile. Miscellaneous paper and other things you currently do not have the brain power to sort? In a pile. Once done, put your important documents you need to sort in your magazine holder. That way, you’ll know where they are when you need them.
  2.  Put the miscellaneous paper in the second magazine holder. As for the items, if they’re not work related, off the desk. A chair will do, this is so you can work now. You can worry about that stuff later.
  3. Anything that clearly belongs to a project get a manilla folder and on the shelf, done.
  4. Straighten any things you keep on your desk and put the rubbish in the bin.
  5. Take a breath and congratulate yourself. You can now sit down and work, comfortable in the knowledge that you have temporarily contained the chaos that is your life.

At some point after you’ve got your work delivered, take a moment and sort through those piles. This is the hardest part of the practical desk cleaning, however, if you do it regularly enough it can take as few as 15 minutes. Good luck.


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