THE BLOG
04/05/2013 12:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2013

Clean Up Your Desk: Tips to Help Your Rethink Your Work Space

For Women & Co., by Rikki Endsley, RikkiEndsley.com

Is your desk seeming cluttered and dulling your creativity? Are your colleagues giving you dirty looks about your growing paper cup collection (the ones with last week's coffee stains on them)?

A recent discussion on Citi's LinkedIn group, Connect: Professional Women's Network, asks the question, "What does your desk say about you?" The discussion made me think not only about the "desk reputation" at the office, but what those of us who run businesses at home could do to make our work spaces more conducive to clearer thinking and higher productivity.

"If my desk were viewed by an outsider, they would think I was a disorganized slob," says Jessica Renard, CEO of Get Hired and Beyond, a company that provides career advice, assistance in negotiation, career development, and motivational speaking. "However, I have a photographic memory and have surprised colleagues I've called from home, saying, 'take the third resume in the purple folder.' They couldn't believe how organized my desk was to me."

Renard says that she has worked with colleagues who were exceptionally diligent workers and kept well-organized, meticulous desks. "Conversely, I've worked with people whose desks were neat because they did little work," she adds. "Don't judge a colleague by the state of her desk," Renard explains. "Everybody has their own manner of organization. You can tell more about them by their deliverables and productivity."

Indeed, while some of us need a clean space for clear thinking, there are studies that show other people work better on a messy desk. Perhaps you, like Einstein and Roald Dahl, think more clearly when surrounded by visual clutter? With this in mind, your colleague's desk mess could have no connection at all to how productive she is at the office.

My own desk sends this message: "Your clutter will get you arrested."

Recently I posted on Facebook, "I can't find the notice about the warrant for my arrest for failure to pay three $3 parking tickets ... which nicely illustrates why I never paid the tickets in the first place." On one hand, I juggle the world of a single parent of a teenager. On the other hand, I juggle a freelance writing and editing business. And on my desk, everything I dropped during the juggling piles up until I simply avoid my office all together. Losing a notice that I can be arrested for failing to pay $9 worth of parking tickets (which must be around here somewhere) is the last straw.

It's time to think about spring cleaning.

Here's what a few organization experts advise for creating a desk environment that may help you think clearly, boost your productivity -- and possibly improve other people's opinions about your work process.

Clear the decks!
"Flat surfaces should be kept clear," writes Jenna Goudreau in an article she wrote for Forbes. Goudreau recommends getting down to the basics and moving extra supplies into drawers or other designated areas. So the pile on the floor next to my desk is good, right? Not so fast. "Like a clean desktop, a clear floor will instantly lighten up the feel of the office space," says Goudreau.

Purge the paper.
Nothing clutters up a desk like paper. Try and eliminate it wherever you can. Think twice before your print out an e-mail. Unsubscribe from publications you don't read. If you bank at Citi, you can sign up for e-Bills, a service that allows you to receive electronic versions of bills from a number of merchants and pay them through Citi online; not only will you eliminate a lot of paper-you'll no longer need to keep checks and stamps in your desk.

Thin out digital clutter.
Digital clutter -- an overflowing email inbox and a cluttered computer desktop -- can be as stressful and energy sapping as physical clutter. If you don't want to delete old emails, organize them by folders. Streamline desktop items into categorized and subcategorized folders. Or consider a cloud provider, like Dropbox for storing large files and organizing your photos. Read Family on the Cloud: Tools to Get Organized and Store Your Virtual Stuff, for even more tips on that front. And while you're at it, you might as well give your desk, keyboard, and other office surfaces a disinfecting wipe down to slay germs and catch a few crumbs. Computer keyboards are notorious for hoarding germs.

Place your desk strategically.
Now that you've cleaned everything, reevaluate your desk placement. My desk currently faces a wall that also holds my one small window, and my office door is behind me. I've suspected that this setup is part of my problem, and according to the principles of feng shui (combined with my gut feeling), I'm doing it all wrong. In a recent article, Karen Kingston suggests that the best place for your desk is facing into the room so that the wall is behind you and you have a view of the windows and door, creating a sense of command and achievement.

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