I talk a great deal about keeping a clean desk. Generally, I am referring to the surface of the desk, and that is generally the message people want to hear. A clean desktop eliminates the time spent looking for things. It prevents distractions and allows you to focus on the task at hand. In addition, the desktop is visible to others.
This post addresses the inside of the desk. While its contents are hidden from others, clutter there results in wasted time trying to find supplies, tools, and papers. Organizing the inside of the desk is just as important as clearing the surface.
What's in Those Desk Drawers?
Open the typical lap drawer and you find pencils with dull points, pencils with broken points, pens whose ink dried years ago, miscellaneous packets of sweetener and ketchup, and scores of pads of sticky notes. Open another drawer to find two staplers: the one that works and the one that is either jammed or out of staples.
Open another drawer and you find a partially-used ream of paper with a dog-eared corner on the entire stack, low-priority mail from last month, and a couple of used Styrofoam coffee cups that never made it to the trash. Another drawer holds an assortment of CD-ROMs (unlabeled), floppy disks (both 3 1/2 inch and 5 1/4 inch, also unlabeled), and miscellaneous flash drives.
Those with a clean desktop can sometimes be the worst offenders when it comes to cluttered desk drawers. All of the unfinished work which would have been stacked on the desk has been shoved into drawers. That desk becomes the Bermuda Triangle of the office. What gets put in one of those drawers is never seen again.
Clean It Out
The first step to an organized desk is to empty it totally. Trying to organize one drawer at a time usually results in junk simply being shifted around to other drawers. Empty the entire desk. Don't be surprised if its contents cover the floor. To clean up the mess, first you have to make the mess.
While the desk drawers are empty, take the time to thoroughly clean them. There is no better time than now to take a damp cloth to that accumulation of dust and the mess from the leaky packet of soy sauce. While you are at it, scrape all the bits of tape that used to hold notes to remind you of something that you probably never saw at the appropriate time anyway. Fingernail polish remover does a fantastic job of removing the sticky residue. As a finishing touch, figure out just why it is that one drawer does not operate freely, and fix the problem. Your desk is where you spend a significant part of your workday, and little hindrances which persist every day are just like the pebble in the shoe during a five-mile hike.
Make a Plan
A little planning on the front end will keep the now-empty drawers from becoming cluttered again. The most basic principle is that the desk is not a storage closet. It is a place which holds what you need on a daily basis. The desk is a place for a handful of paperclips and rubber bands, not several boxes of either one. The desk is a place for a few sharpened pencils and a few pens, not a place for every pencil and pen in the office. It's a place for a memo pad, not a dozen memo pads.
Before putting anything back in the desk, find a place to store extra office supplies. A shelf in a nearby closet or empty filing cabinet drawer can serve this function well. The box of staples, packs of Post-it notes, reams of paper, rolls of Scotch tape, and boxes of file folders, rubber bands, and paper clips will all find homes there rather than in your desk. When you need more paper clips, you will know where to get them.
Here is one common scenario: You go to a conference and return with the obligatory conference bag containing pads of Post-it notes, pencils, and pens imprinted with the names of exhibitors. Where do you put that sort of thing? If you throw them in desk drawers, you add to the collection of half-used memo pads and the problem of a lap drawer already overflowing with writing utensils. Put the new supplies in the supply area, not in the desk.
If this article motivates you to do something with your desk, clip this article. Next week, we will look at how to put it all back together.
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