Much to my parents’ surprise, as an adult, I’ve developed a love for cleaning. So much so, that I’ve gained a reputation in my office for despising clutter, and close friends call me in for backup when their apartments are in distress. When spring cleaning time rolls around, I get a special thrill.
When you think of spring cleaning, you likely think about tidying up your apartment, cleaning out your closet, and scrubbing down your kitchen. But if you’re reading this at work, pause and take a look around — is your desk due for some spring cleaning, too?
If your desk is a mess, you’re not alone. Researchers have spent years disagreeing over whether a messy desk means you’re possibly a genius or bogged down by a cluttered mind. I personally like to think a clean desk will boost your productivity and may even increase your chances of getting a promotion.
In either case, here are eight steps you can take to get your desk in order.
Choose an approach
The hardest part of cleaning any space is simply getting started. You have to choose an approach that works best for you. My personal system is to remove everything from desk drawers or shelves at once, and begin by making an even bigger mess. It may seem counterintuitive, but this helps me see how much junk I’ve accumulated and motivates me to clean. However, my all-at-once approach can be a bit much for some, so you can also start small and do one drawer or shelf a day to keep from getting overwhelmed and giving up.
Organize (or get rid of) unnecessary paper
While I’d love to tell you to get rid of all the paper and files in your office, there may be some things you have to keep. Find out your company’s document retention policy so you’re clear on what can go and what must stay. For the things you’re not required to keep, be honest with yourself about how much you’ve used them in the past or will use them in the future. Notes from a major client meeting? You’ll want to keep that. The handouts from a presentation you went to years ago and have never thought once about since? Ditch them.
For documents that you need to keep for future reference, get them organized. Digitize what you can and develop an organizational system for what you can’t. Use color-coded folders to keep project documents together and easy to find. For things that can go, shred anything with sensitive information and recycle the rest.
To prevent accumulating paper moving forward, switch to a digital to-do list and take notes on a laptop or tablet (if you don’t already). To find an app that will fit your personality, check out this list from The Muse for their listing of 10 To-Do Apps for 10 Kinds of People.
Throw out anything outdated
Check expiration dates on anything perishable such as snacks, medication, and personal hygiene products. Ditch anything that’s outdated. Donate unwanted (still in date) snacks to a shared kitchen or break room. Your coworker in need of an afternoon snack will thank you.
Get control of the cups
How many cups, mugs, or water bottles currently live on/in your desk? Probably more than you need. These seem to have a way of multiplying, so cut them down to two – one for hot and one for cold. Clean the ones you’re keeping, especially if they’ve been hiding out in a far corner of your desk for awhile. And try to avoid accumulating more by politely declining when companies hand them out at information tables or events.
Rotate out personal touches
It’s easy to end up with tons of pictures, cards, or other personal touches on your desk and pinned to the walls. Take time to determine which items still hold meaning and either ditch the ones that don’t or take them home to be stored with other similar items. But be careful not to just create a pile you’ll have to sort through later at home – that won’t help in the long run. Instead, organize your momentos into photo storage boxes or Rubbermaid bins. Label each box well so you can easily know what’s inside and find what you’re looking for in the future.
Take stuff that belongs at home, home
Have the sweaters or dishes that you brought to work for a day taken up residence in your desk drawers because you don’t feel like carrying them home? It’s time for them to go — or find a new — home. Carry home personal items that have migrated to your office. If you no longer want or need these lingering items, donate them, but don’t just put off the decision by leaving them at your desk.
Do a deep cleaning
Don’t just declutter, actually clean your desk, including your junk drawer. You know, the one that’s just a jumble of paper clips, hair ties, and cough drops. Get dusting supplies and disinfecting wipes and wipe everything down. While you’re at it, untangle any cords and use zip ties, binder clips, and/or masking tape to keep them from turning into a giant knot again.
Set a calendar reminder to tidy up your desk every week. Use this time to wash dishes, clear out unwanted food, and get rid of extra paper you’ve accumulated. Do a weekly wipedown of all surfaces to prevent germs and general gunk from building up. Check out these tips for an optimal desk layout or these steps for organizing your office to maximize productivity and monitor your progress regularly. Taking these smaller steps year-round will turn cleaning your desk from a once-a-year tornado into a manageable routine.
Originally published on April 3, 2018.