I followed my boss to a co-worker's cubicle where my boss requested a certain document from the co-worker. The actual surface of the co-workers desk was not visible because its surface was covered with a cluttered pile of papers, catalogs, booklets, and other paraphernalia. I was prepared to see my co-worker embarass himself by not being able to locate the requested document in that messy pile.
Some people mistakenly think having a cluttered desk will trick their boss into thinking they are keeping busy. Instead, a cluttered desk makes your boss think the following:
• You are disorganized
• You are a procastinator
• you have poor time management skills
• you have low productivity
• You have lost control
My co-worker pushed his hand down into that cluttered mess and, to my amazement, instantly produced the requested document. Apparently this guy had a mental map of the location of every item in the seemly disorganized pile on his desk. Maybe we misjudge people that keep a cluttered desk.
People think that a worker with a messy desk does messy work. Misjudgment or not, if you have a messy desk, your boss might not want to risk giving you an important assignment. You will get only low profile, boring grunt jobs. Fair or not, that's the way it is.
Things that clutter a desk:
• Pictures of family, pets, etc.
• Trinkets, plants, figurines, signs
• Food, cups, bowls, silverware, wrappers, crumbs
I'm not saying that you have to get rid of every personal item from your desk. Displaying a family photograph gives the impression of a stable, reliable individual, but too many photograph's on your desk sends the message that you would rather be somewhere else. A plant on your desk can make your cubicle seem less harsh, but too many plants makes people think that your hobby is taking over your cubicle.
Yes, it requires a little extra time and work up front to get organized, but in the long run, you'll make up that time. After you get organized, you'll work less to be more productive, and your work will much less stressful. One way to keep your desk neat is to block off 30 minutes each morning to organize your desk. Divide things into three categories:
• Things to take care of now
• Things you will deal with later
• Things to file away for reference
Then utilize the following organizing tools:
• file folders
Use these organizing tools to create a place for every item on your desk. Everything should have a place, and everything should be in its place. Your desktop is the place for only one thing, the one thing you are working on this instant. The most important organizing tool is the one listed below:
• trash can
Some people hang on to things forever because they think they may need it at some time in the future. Study the item you are hanging on to. What are the odds that you will need it some time in the future? None to zero? In the slim chance that you do need it in the future, is there some other source for it?
Some people keep things related to active assignments on their desk so they won't forget about what needs to be done. Instead, keep a prioritized task list. A prioritized task list is great for workers who constantly get interrupted. If the interruption is your boss, show them your prioritized task list and ask where the new assignment fits in. If the interruption is not your boss, show them your prioritized task list and tell them you'll check with your boss as to where their chore fits into list.
The reality is that some people are never going to get organized. They believe that any other activity has a higher priority than organizing. The story about my co-worker indicates that being disorganized is not a reliable indicator of a deficient employee. But if you have a cluttered desk, that's how you will be perceived. If you can't use the tools described above (boxes, drawers, cabinates, etc) to organize your cluttered desk, then at least use them to hide the clutter.