How to Declutter Your Workspace

By | Posted September 11th, 2012

Personal organization can be frustrating to maintain, let alone your workspace. I struggle with it, too. Occasionally, you might find that pack of gum under your quarterly reports, or that takeout you had last week behind the printer. No wonder it smelled. In this article, I’ll highlight a few ways you can push that mess aside and make your desk a desirable place to work.

Don’t feel alone if you have a jumbled mess surrounding you this very second. In a survey we conducted of about 100 full-time employees, only 35 percent of them say their desk is extremely well organized. A cluttered desk can be immensely distracting for you and your coworkers. It can also be embarrassing when someone passes by your desk and that cake from Carl’s ice cream social last week is still hanging around.

Another Reason to Clean

There’s another side to keeping clean, however — office safety. For instance, in the office of O, The Oprah Magazine, they were cited for safety infractions during one of their building inspections due to excessive clutter. What kinds of random things did they have lying around, you ask? Everything from deflated birthday party balloons, to dead orchids, hand cream, unfinished rice cakes, stuffed animals and, of course, blankets of paper and magazines.

What’s The Diagnosis, Doc?

Peter Walsh, the man who helped clean out the O office, believes that the problem lies in procrastination. “Keep whatever you want,” he said. However, you have to make the decision to keep the item and not just say “I’ll deal with this later.” Walsh firmly supports cleanliness when it comes to the office because “they’re work spaces, not storage space.” At the end of the workday, you should take a moment to sort through the items on your desk, throw away what you can, and take whatever else home.

So Basically…

You’re lazy. I’m kidding, of course. But there are a few basic ways you can clean up your desk without just throwing random stuff into your office trash can. Make three piles: storage, files, and trash. If you have any particular attachment to your items, detach yourself and start tossing. If you don’t need it, you shouldn’t be sad to see it go. Move equipment or papers that you don’t need out of your immediate reach. Why keep it close if you don’t use it every day? It’s clutter.

Perform a Digital Mop Up of Your Computer

Seriously, your computer’s desktop looks atrocious. Let’s play a game: Concentration. Perhaps you remember this from when you were a kid when it was played with a deck of cards. Remember how the object was to find a matching pair? Well, instead we’re going to do this with your files. Create folders and sort your files by a category of your choosing. For instance, you can do it by year. Also, delete unnecessary files and put the ones you don’t need for immediate use onto a backup storage.

Additionally, set aside 20 minutes of your busy day to sit down and sort through the 2,000 emails you haven’t read that date back to 1998. Even if you have something that is still important but you don’t want to delete it, create a folder within your inbox and store the email for later. Even if you don’t get through all the emails, you’ll at least develop a methodology for managing the chaos.

More on the Importance of Digital Cleaning

If you feel sorting through your email has become a horrendous burden, you aren’t alone. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the average person spends 28 percent of their work time, or 13 hours a week, on email alone. Consolidate old email addresses or delete them entirely if you can. Some services, such as Gmail, allow you to forward your emails to an email address of your choosing.

Social software can also help fix the issue of a brimming inbox. Anywhere from 7 to 8.5 hours a week can be shaved off the time spent collaborating with co-workers if you start communicating via a social network. That doesn’t mean you should post pictures of your baby cousin Jimmy on Facebook at every opportunity and spread the word around the office – I mean it.


I’ll bet you aren’t chomping at the bit to clean out that office space. Humor me and throw away that 2-week-old cup of coffee and just see how it feels. Who knows, you may find out that you enjoy cleaning or you could receive that little slice of Zen to put your mind at ease while at work.