May 22, 2024
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In a previous series, I laid out a five-step productivity process for leaders, which I then turned into a Productivity Blueprint (see my bio for how to access.) This post goes deeper on the first of the five steps, planning for maximal productivity.

Research is clear that we get more done when we know where things are. This is true with our physical things (papers, files, gadgets, etc.) as well as our digital ones. Not only can things be found more easily when they are systematically organized, but there is also a significant psychological benefit of keeping our things in order.

Our external order creates an internal sense of orderliness and allows us to do more while handling challenges in stride. It makes us feel in control of our situation and allows us to clearly focus and identify areas that need attention.

In contrast, a messy workspace sends a subliminal message that our work lacks importance or that the processes we are involved in are not meaningful. It also increases distractibility and can promote both negative energy and anxiety.

While it is easy to give excuses about one’s organizational style and even blame a messy desk on space limitations, et al., there are creative ways to keep your space neat and organized. Here are some tips for cleaning and organizing your workspace (and your mind) so that you can get your best work done each day.

1. Wipe things down—In today’s environment, having a clean, disinfected desk is more important than ever. But the benefits of cleaning extend well beyond sanitation. Since you cannot properly clean and disinfect a cluttered desk, a decision to operate in a frequently cleaned area means that you will work harder to keep your space clutter-free. A clean, decluttered workspace is also a more enjoyable place to work, which—you guessed it—will help you be and stay more productive.

2. Purge!—Every major change starts with a thorough house cleaning; literal, mental or both. Declutter your workspace by emptying, shredding and ridding it of any frivolous space-eaters that add no value to your work.

3. Give your stuff a home, with a clear address—It is hard to get things done when you cannot find what you need. Whether it is a physical item, like a document, or a virtual file, countless hours are lost each day due to an inability to quickly find things. Invest in folders and storage boxes to organize all the loose papers and other items cluttering up the surface of your desk and elsewhere. Throw away anything that is not important enough to put into storage. If you are unsure about needing any of your papers someday, scan and save them first before discarding.

4. Put a system in place—Choose a proper labelling and/or coloring system for your office. Take the time to label shelves, folders, bins and drawers. The content on your computer or other electronic devices also affects the output of your work and life. Declutter and organize your desktop by deleting files, pictures or software applications that you don’t need. Many people also use their computer desktops as a de facto to-do lists. As a result, the things that they need to remember start to accumulate and create disorder. Instead, create a proper to-do list, as discussed, and move all important files into folders and subfolders within your Documents.

5. Sort and filter new (e)mail—When new mail arrives, quickly sort through it and take out the pieces you need right away. Set aside time to read through or pass along the rest. Emails should also be filtered based on urgency and importance. Those that are not critical can be set aside for later.

6. Limit personal items—Though personal items like family pictures and vacation souvenirs are nice to look at, they often take up a lot of surface area and can be distracting. Aim to limit yourself to one personal item on your desk, and preferably position it out of the line of sight when working.

7. Help yourself out—Identify office supplies that make you more productive, such as a beautiful timer to help you stay focused and inspired. Make space for a desktop calendar and other beneficial items to help keep you on track.

8. Put it in the plan—Clutter is often as much a time management problem as it is an organizing problem. With all the work we must achieve, there’s a good chance that we won’t put things away unless we actually schedule the time to do it. Suggestion: Build in 15 minutes at the end of the day to put everything back where it belongs.

9. Remember where you are—If you work from home, you need to have a dedicated workplace that can be partitioned from your home life. This will mentally allow you to “check in” to work and be more productive. It also encourages you to keep work and home items—such as computers—separate. The last thing you want is for sensitive data to be accessed by family, or, worse, infected with some nasty virus.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach who helps busy leaders be more productive so that they can scale profits with less stress and get home at a decent hour. For a free, no obligation consultation, please call 212.470.6139 or email [email protected]. Buy his leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss,” on Amazon. Download his free productivity blueprint at ImpactfulCoaching.com/ Productivity-Blueprint.

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