Seven Steps to an Efficient Workspace

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When people come into my office and look at my desk they often remark on how tidy I am, how organised I must be, how efficiently I work. These days it is true that my workspace is remarkably tidy, organised and efficient but behind what people see today are years of wasted time and inefficiency on an unparalleled scale.


Efficient Workspace
My desk. This is the workspace of a self-confessed clutter bug, but it takes effort.

An Untidy Desk is the sign of the ‘Elves of Clutter’

My natural state is that of one of the world’s greatest clutter bugs.  For years my desk was a mass of clutter. Two or three piles of paper each vaguely relating to the two or three projects I was working on at the time, a pile of paper that I needed to “go through” and an admin pile, usually pushed to the back because I hated doing it. There were lots of post-it notes and bits of paper with numbers and “things” written on them. Two or three books that I was going to read, some magazines that I would get around to looking at when I had a free moment. Then there were a host of miscellaneous objects, articles cut out of trade magazines, rulers (always more than one!), a hole punch (but never when I needed one), calculator, stapler (never seemed to have staples in it!), scissors, half a dozen pens of various colours and bizarrely there were always one or two batteries that did not seem to fit anything that I owned.

These piles of semi-organised clutter grew mysteriously on a daily basis, which meant that I could never find anything without going through “the piles” until it became unbearable and I would have to take Saturday morning to have a “good clear out once and for all” during which I would find things that I was sure I had never seen before and were definitely not mine. I became convinced that elves, ‘The Elves of Clutter’, must be bringing this stuff in at night and leaving it for me to find the following morning.

After years of constantly asking myself “Why can I never find anything?” I became so frustrated wasting my time rummaging through clutter that one day I decided enough was enough and I would become organised. The following week I spent the necessary time to organise my workspace. Although a workspace is a unique and personal thing, the process I went through may be a help to my fellow clutter bugs out there.

My Seven Steps to defeating ‘The Elves of Clutter’

1. Write a “What do I do?” list.

This may sound obvious but to actually see a list of the activities you need to perform is a great start to self-organisation. Once you have this, group your activities into those that you do on a daily, weekly or other time frame basis. Now you know what you do and how often you do it.

2. What do I need to do what I do?

Next to each function on your “What do I do?” list add what equipment and supplies you need to carry out those functions. The list is as varied as there are activities, so its whatever works for you.

3. Zone out.

These two lists will form the basis of how you organise your workplace. Those pieces of equipment that you use on a daily basis need to be within reach so that you do not have to search for them. When you want something there is no thought, no effort, just put your hand out and there it is.

4. Zone further out.

Few of us are in the position where everything we need can be instantly to hand. Those items that you use periodically can be stored further away whether they are on a shelf, in a cupboard, in a filing cabinet or stored in containers.  A great time saver is to ensure that everything relating to a particular project is in one place so it can be imported into your workspace, en masse, with the minimum of effort.

5. Become a Gatekeeper.

Make it difficult for anything to enter your space. Ask yourself “What am I going to do with this?” then ask yourself “What am I really going to do with this?” While you might like to keep it, read it, file it, if you are realistically not going to do anything with it other than keep it on your desk for a while where it will add to the clutter and just be one more thing you have to move or search through, bin it immediately.

6. Spot the block!

For those of us who are not naturally tidy the clutter elves can sneak back into action and before you know it, your desk has acquired a random collection of papers and your in-tray has become an overflowing parking place for anything that you have not dealt with. In the first few weeks of your clutter free life make a conscious decision to be aware of anything that blocks you from having an organised workspace and focus on preventing it from happening.

7. Tidy.

Be totally ruthless on your end of day tidy up. Put any projects you are working on back in their place and clear your desk of the day’s debris. Practising the old adage “A place for everything and everything in its place” will not only keep your workspace clear but will also help keep your mind clear and allow you to focus on your priority tasks.

Some people are just organised and the points above come naturally to them, some of us are naturally messy. For those of us who are clutter bugs the above will help prevent all those hours of searching and frustration and lead to a more efficient working life. Best of all is the joy of sitting at your desk in the morning and everything is exactly where it needs to be for you to start work. No clutter, no rummaging, no frustration, you can just focus on the task, calmly and efficiently knowing that you have defeated the ‘Elves of Clutter’!