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Clear desk, clear mind: Why you should be mindful of your working environment


A home for everything Tidying has been all the rage as of late due to a few very popular self-development books that heavily promoted the connection between the state of your environment and the state of your mind. I have grown a little tired of the all-white, very aesthetic living spaces I see on social media, but I, too, am a believer that my living/working space and my productivity, motivation and thought processes are interdependent. And I am not talking about my temporary puppy chaos – I am talking more about the underlying structure of, in this case, a working space. A structure needs to be in place to make the room tidy. It is far easier to keep something in order if that state “in order” is somewhat defined. Or in self-development book words: If everything in the space has a home.

The benefits of a structured workplace There are the very practical benefits of a structured workplace like the time saved looking for things or the representative effect of a well maintained set up. But there are also emotional effects tied to the state of the workplace. Frustration levels, for example, can rise in a messy place, stemming from either not being able to find or use the thing one is after or from negative emotions attached to the mess like shame, guilt or pressure. This all promotes more stress and less motivation. In general, a structured workplace and easy access to everything is more likely to promote feeling on top of the game or, taking it a step further, in control of the situation. A very personal example of this for me are wires. Tangled wires tha

And how does this affect me? Going a bit deeper from the emotional benefits is where the productivity theory implications lie. When comparing a cluttered workspace to a more minimal workspace, for example, you will find that distractions will become fewer as well. For those of us working on a computer with the internet on our fingertips obviously, there will always be distractions if we allow them. But physical distractions will be reduced if we are mindful of the purpose of the space we’re in and which objects we allow into this area based on whether they serve this purpose or not. It has been shown that creative people are more likely to come up with equally creative problem-solving ideas in a messy environment (*1). The non-existent coherence of the place promoted thinking outside of the established lines and more daring approaches. But for the average person in the average situation, clutter reduces the ability to focus on the task at hand and therefore lying down structures that encourage a clear desk space increase productivity.

Healthy habits That will make it easier to get started again the next day as well. Especially when you are trying to exercise other productivity techniques like setting out your to-do list the night before. There is little use in being poised for the day’s tasks because you created your action plan the night before and then not being able to get started because you need to prepare your desk first. That kills a lot of momentum. Productivity experts argue that “eating the frog”, meaning tackling the hardest item on your to-do list first thing, will make you more motivated and effective for the rest of the day. Don’t let your desk become that frog.

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