The Clear Desk

14 Jul

In the days when I worked for a large company, in an air-conditioned office, with a kitchen and a coffee machine *sigh*, there were certain rules that were expected to be adhered to.  The corporate world comes with caveats, rules of engagement and expectations that have slipped since I’ve worked for myself.

Back then you were expected to spend the last few minutes of every day clearing your desk.  Brownie points were awarded to those who managed to maintain a clear desk throughout the day, working systematically and being in a constant state of ‘presentable to visitors’.

My office was fronted with glass, and I was situated near the back door – every passer-by looked in as they entered and exited the building, and my highly visible desk was (relatively) uncluttered. I knew where things were, I had a three-tiered tray full of my ‘to-do’, ‘in-progress’ and ‘to-be-filed’ work and my top drawer would have delighted the stationery gluttons, with its neat rows of staplers, staple removers, rulers, highlighters and a multitude of other ‘essentials’.

The clear desk policy was intended to have other benefits. There were studies that apparently concluded that a clear desk reduces stress and improves productivity.  In a team environment it also means that other people can find things on your desk relatively easily, should you be stricken with World Cup fever or some other transmissible disease.

In a freelancer’s life, there is no obvious need to think of your co-workers – the only people who visit my office in its current state are the dog and three children when they slip passed the obstacle course that is my attempt at keeping them out.  I once, in a fit of generosity, taped a large rectangle of paper to one corner of my desk, naming it ‘Children’s Corner’ – it is now a graffitied wasteland, strewn with hairbrushes and pencils and crayons and other random objects which may, or may not have originated at a large fast food giant beginning with M.

This week, my cluttered desk and I reached an impasse. My ‘in progress’ pile (usually kept just adjacent to my left elbow) toppled meeting the debris accumulated to the south of my keyboard and completely occluding the screen of my mac.  To my right were assorted piles, including a ‘to be filed’ and a rather random ‘household – to do’ which may or may  not contain an unpaid VAT bill – I’m too scared to look.  I was left with a 10cm * 7cm clear space in front of me and realised it was time to tidy.

Today I greet you from a clear desk – or as clear as it gets in this office.  I have an expanse of space where my arms can rest naturally before meeting the keyboard.  My to-do list is in clear view and my in progress pile has been reshuffled and addressed.  There are still a few random objects here and there but nothing I’m unhappy with.  I’m beginning an experiment – every day for a week I will spend 10 minutes tidying, filing, making my lists for the next day and I will note any change in my stress or productivity.  So far today – so good, for one thing I’ve written this blog for the first time in a month and my to-do list is 70% complete.

Maybe there’s something in this clear desk notion?  Now I just need someone to walk past the window and check it out…


19 Responses to “The Clear Desk”

  1. Alex Standiford July 14, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    Interesting post. Can’t wait to hear how this works out for you, although it does make sense. A clean desk is an organized one.

    • Paula August 4, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

      Late coming back to my comments Alex – it hasn’t worked out! I’m a clear desk failure!

  2. Naomi Richards July 14, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    Anyone who knows me expects my desk to have one peice of paper on it. I cant do mess and untidyness. I like the clear desk policy. When I worked for organisations we used to also have this.

    • Paula August 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

      That’s exactly what Becky said! I do wish I could be the same, but I’m deffo not!

  3. jfb57 July 14, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    We shall provide a virtual window to your office P! In order to fulfill our monitoring role, please post a weekly picture of said desk (cleared of course!)

    • Paula August 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

      I daren’t Julia – really – it’s too awful!

  4. Chic Mama July 14, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    I am a terrible ‘clutterer’ and then the mess gets on top of me and I feel trapped. When everything is clear and tidy and clutter free I feel free. It’s a lovely feeling…’s as though even breathing is easier… That all sounds so silly and cheesy but that’s how I feel on a personal level. I like the idea that if you get struck down with a strange illness people will now be able to get their hands on whatever they need to easily now. ;0)

    • Paula August 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

      Luckily the mystery illness hasn’t struck, because I’ve got no better – but I did try! You’re so right though, I completely get the idea of breathing easier because you’re clutter free…..I’m just so rubbish at keeping it up…

  5. Rosie Scribble July 14, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    This is a little strange. Have you been reading my mind? I have been attempting to tidy my desk all day after finding a bill I hadn’t even opened and then losing the work I was supposed to be finishing today. This has to be a sign. You’re telling me to sort it out aren’t you?

    • Paula August 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

      I was Rosie, and then I failed myself – how are you getting on with it?!

  6. eggscreamandhoney July 14, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    Love your children’s corner. Sounds like my entire house. Hope the new regime goes well. Keep us “posted”.

    • Paula August 4, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

      *the face of failure* 😉

  7. Rachael July 14, 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    I don’t have a desk. Working from home for me means a laptop and a pile of papers on the coffee table. Or the bookcase. Or beside the bed. Actually, all of the above. I shall watch with interest to see how you get on – I suspect if I had a desk, I might get more done. Ha ha.

    • Paula August 4, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

      I suspect if you had a desk if would be a meeting place for the aforementioned piles of papers 😉

  8. Him Up North July 14, 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    A tidy desk is the sign of a sick mind. Just saying. 😉

    • Paula August 4, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

      agreed 🙂

  9. Nickie (Typecast) July 30, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    I have a clear desk wherever I work – it helps me to order myself (more OCD tendencies from me??) and I always clear away at the end of an evening but that’s just the way I’ve trained myself from working in a public office.

    • Paula August 4, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

      I have lists upon lists, then more lists when I lose the original list….I should probably resign myself to it 🙂


  1. The everso slightly embarrassed post…. « - November 3, 2010

    […] best news is that my new (home) office is finally finished. My desk is back to being the same old state it used to be, but some things never change, and I’m […]

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