Ah, the clear desk. There’s nothing like it. It represents control and a sense of accomplishment, but it’s more than just a nice idea. A clear work surface is nothing less than your MOST valuable organizing tool.
That’s right. I said organizing TOOL. As with all tools, a work surface performs best when it is used with the right purpose. Storing junky tchotchkes on your work surface is like using a hammer to saw a plank. So what does your work surface need to be dedicated to? PROCESSING PAPERWORK.
To understand why this is so important, compare your office to your computer’s hard drive. A computer uses thousands of megabytes on applications and documents, but it must reserve a certain amount of random access memory for PROCESSING data or it will get overwhelmed and crash. If you run out of work surface to process paperwork, then YOU will be overwhelmed and crash!
Now, perhaps you’re saying “Yeah, but I need everything out where I can see it!” I agree that if you need to make a point of acting on something, it must be visible. The trouble is, if everything is important then nothing is important. To give your to-do’s the best odds of getting to DONE, they need to be visible, vertical, and minimal. There are ways to achieve this focus that preserves your work surface.
And I know it’s not all paper that ends up on your work surface. To really free up all the processing surface you need to stay in control, it’s best to start from scratch and target your office. You will encounter some items that don’t seem to belong anywhere, but ultimately every item has a category.
There’s a joke that goes something like this. If a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk represent? I guess it’s a very western belief that “open” equals “empty” or “barren.” The ancient Chinese practice of Feng Shui is framed around the belief that there is energy (chi) in everything and that it flows more freely in open spaces. At this moment as I write, my desk is completely clear and I and I feel this energy. I’m am completely focused, calm, and awake. There’s nothing “empty” about it. There is power in the openness.
Make no mistake, I clutter up my desk many times throughout the day. Your work surface exists to be worked on. That’s the whole point, but at the end of the work day, be sure everything you’re working on has a reliable home. When you begin the next day with a clear work surface, you begin the day empowered.