My favorite organizing tool is a clear work surface. Disappointed? Hear me out.

Perhaps you were hoping I would reveal a new electronic gadget that’s on the market. Nope. A clear work surface, dedicated to processing, will do more to help you stay organized than anything else. It is also your best tool for you to get organized.

A tool with a purpose

Is one work surface better than another? Not really. The value of this tool mostly comes from how you use it. For starters, it’s not common to refer to a piece of furniture as a tool, but that’s important. This way of thinking is one of the keys to getting and staying organized.

Like any tool, a clear work surface should have a dedicated purpose. That purpose of this tool should be processing. The traditional organizing model is “a place for everything and everything in its place.” We tend to think that once we get things to the right place, we are organized. However, there is a missing piece. There must also be a plan for circulation and processing. The clear work surface provides the runway for processing.

Prioritize and process

A clear work surface gives you the power to spread out. When you can spread out, it becomes significantly easier to prioritize. Organizing is ultimately not about sorting out your stuff, but about sorting out your priorities. Priorities can include your mail, your food, your laundry, and your projects. Once you settle on your priorities for them moment, then you can process them away. That way you always have processing room for you next priority.

Surface support

There are two keys to maintaining a clear work surfaces. The first is to recognize the importance of limiting the purpose to processing. The second is to have alternate homes for the items that live on surfaces. So sort the major categories. You will probably find there are homes that you need to create. Some common categories are children artwork and handbag contents. As for mail, I have an entirely different strategy for that.

Bottom line, don’t squander your precious surfaces on storage. This happens because besides not having the right home for its frequent visitors, there’s the convenience. Nothing is easier to leave stuff on than a work surface. It’s a nice big target. It’s located almost exactly at arm’s length, so you hardly have to bend your elbow. But find or create another location if you can. ALL your tasks and projects will be easier and you will be more organized.

Structure and habit

Some organizing systems are more about an easy habit and some are more about an easy structure. Filling up your work surfaces, puts you at a fundamental structural disadvantage. Giving yourself a clear work surface makes both your structure and habit easier. Organizing systems with both easy structure and easy habit are the best systems.

Do you have a favorite organizing tool?