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4 Ways to Organize Your Desk for a Calm and Focused Mind

Your desk doesn’t need to look one way to mean you’re organized.

Courtesy of Rawpixel / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Rawpixel / Shutterstock

We’re often told exactly how our desks should look in order to maximize our productivity at work. The truth is, your desk doesn’t have to look one way in order for you to be organized, and your preferences can vary as your professional life evolves.

One thing stays the same, though: Getting organized in a way that works for you can help you reduce stress, stay focused, and enhance happiness — ultimately making you healthier and happier, Amy Neiman, M.A., a professional organizing consultant and contributing author of The Happy Law Practice: Expert Strategies to Build Business While Maintaining Peace of Mind, tells Thrive. Check out these four organizational styles to find out which one suits you best. 

If you’re easily stressed, create a clean slate

A crowded desk can make it harder to focus and easier to feel overwhelmed, Melissa Gratias, Ph.D, a productivity specialist with a background in industrial and organizational psychology, tells Thrive. To create a calmer atmosphere more conducive to dealing with stress, Gratias suggests reserving your desk surface solely for things you use every single day. “A clear desk is a space where creativity and productivity can flow. If you prefer clear spaces, allow time at the end of each workday to make decisions about every piece of paper on your desk surface. Keep your file drawers regularly purged and organized,” she says. 

And if you truly want to set yourself up for a fresh start every day, Gratias recommends wiping down your desk nightly before you head home. “While you’re doing that, ‘wipe down’ your brain as well. Affirm what you accomplished that day, forgive yourself for any missteps, and assure yourself that you will have a productive day tomorrow. Give yourself permission to leave work at work, and fully embrace the personal time to come,” she says.

If you’re looking for a stroke of genius, hone in on your values

Your desk is often where inspiration strikes, so why not make it a space that speaks to your interests and values? If you do wish to keep some things on top of your desk — and let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to keep your desk completely clear at all times — Gratias recommends filling your workspace with special items that hold practical or sentimental value. “Only allow things on top of your desk if they have high utilitarian value to you, or if they are personal reminders of why you come to work in the morning and why you leave at the end of each day,” she says. Keep in mind, though, that there is a fine line between filling your space with meaning and giving into clutter. Neiman says to be wary of trinkets, extra books, or things that don’t need your attention during the workday.

If you need a greater sense of control, keep things in sight but not out of mind

“Some people prefer to keep their most important items in their field of vision. Being able to see everything helps them feel more calm and in control,” Gratias says. If this sounds like you, she recommends using clear desk organizers and bins rather than drawers, and making use of cork boards and floating shelves to maximize your space. However, it’s still important to sort through your space at least once a week to ensure it doesn’t become cluttered. 

If you’re in need of a productivity boost, don’t underestimate the power of labels

If you’re in the habit of making a mental checklist or labeling things by memory, Neiman recommends creating an “action center” to keep track of paperwork, tasks, and bills. She uses a cascading folder organizer to sort action items as follows: 

  • Action — Urgent: Projects that need to be addressed in the next 48 hours.
  • Action — Non-Urgent: Tasks that need to be addressed in the next week.
  • Projects or research that can be saved for a lighter day.

“When you label folders, it’s all about the retrieval process — it’s all about what you would label something for you to remember it later, so you remember where to find it,” Neiman says. The more you label, the easier it is to feel calm and fuel productivity.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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