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How to Declutter Your Workspace

How to Declutter Your Workspace

    I’ve just had an opportunity to declutter my workspace, having spent half of the day swapping my home office and my son’s room around. The swap wasn’t an excuse to declutter (rather, to make better use of the utter lack of telephone outlets in our house) but I take every chance I get; we all know how clutter can creep up and before you know it you can’t turn around in your chair without knocking something over.

    I’m a musician and it has always been hard to keep my office space uncluttered; at a minimum I need a decent set of speakers, monitoring headphones, a keyboard, a mixer and digital audio input and an array of instruments in my working space to compose and create. That’s in addition to all the tools I need for the other half of my work life, which is writing. Each time I declutter I have to try and strike a balance between accessibility and lack of clutter, and each time I optimize enough to find a setup that works a little better.

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    I spend most days of the week in this room, usually way more than the recommended eight hours of work a day. So having a good workspace is important; ergonomic equipment is only one half of the equation – the physical half. The other half is mental, and for me, the best way to keep a positive attitude throughout the day is to have a clean, decluttered working area and a fair bit of natural light coming into the room.

    Here’s what I did. Bear in mind you don’t have to go to this extreme end of the spectrum, but I was clearing out the room anyway so there was no harm in doing it properly!

    1. Remove everything from the room

    If you’re decluttering the same way I have, this means removing everything, including the assorted junk hidden in your cupboard (built-in wardrobe if your home office was really meant to be a bedroom!). Yes, I know it’s in there. You can’t fool everyone.

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    Now that the room is empty, I suggest taking the opportunity to vacuum, clean the walls, and do anything else you need to do to get the room in its best condition. You don’t empty the whole room often and this may be your last chance for a few more months, or even years if you don’t move regularly. The cleaning stage is all a part of decluttering, really, and fortunately you’ve got unhindered access to every cranny of the room.

    2. View all items as equals

    The first thing you do when you examine the contents of a room for decluttering is discount your ability to declutter certain things. You look at the furniture of the room, for instance, and don’t even consider whether you need it in there or not; your mind automatically bypasses those things and looks at the assorted pile of junk.

    It is quite possible that the bookshelf or a part of your desk is actually clutter you don’t need. I have one of those corner desks similar to this (though way less ugly!). By viewing all my items as potential targets of the decluttering machine, I realized I could gain significant space in the room as well as provide less surface area for clutter creep by removing the rounded pane in the middle that connects the two main desk surfaces.

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    3. Choose necessities

    The next temptation is to fill the room with things you think you might need to have on hand, but in reality only use once a week or once a month. The key to a successful decluttering is to choose the absolute necessities for your workspace, and only bring those items back into the office. At this point the only things I have on my desk are my computer, keyboard, mouse, speakers and a notebook (as in the kind with paper inside) and pen.

    I’m trialling a system with my music equipment that will require me to bring them out of storage only when I need to use them. The main difficulty with this system in the past has been the time it costs to plug everything in and set it up, but I’ve found a solution that’ll only cost about a minute in set up time; I think I can live with that!

    4. Place items consciously

    Once you have made a conscious decision about what gets to come back in before you bring everything back in, you can go about finding a place for each item. Think carefully about where you’re going to put it in order to maximize the amount of room you have, in terms of both floor space and desk space. As I mentioned, removing one component of my desk allowed me to increase my floor space drastically which reduces the sense of clutter and claustrophobia. It has already made the office a much more productive and positive place to work.

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    Don’t just chuck everything you’re left with back in the way it came out. Decluttering is pointless unless you put some thought into every step and really optimize all aspects of your workspace. In short, decluttering isn’t just about throwing things away.

    5. Make a commitment to regular decluttering

    Many people would tell you that you should now make a general and obtuse commitment to keep your workspace decluttered, but we all know how clutter works. It creeps up slowly and you have to set aside a specific time at a regular interval to fight it off and keep it at bay. Whether you find five minutes at the end of each day or an hour once a week works best for you, don’t make the mistake of telling yourself you’ll just magically keep the workspace uncluttered with your newfound clean-freak attitude. You won’t. Just make a commitment to declutter again in the future at regular intervals.

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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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