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Less Mess = Less Stress

How many of you have a messy desk? Do you have files, papers, magazines and piles of clutter all over it?  Have you even forgotten what colour your desk is under the mess?  If you said yes to any of these questions then perhaps the time has come to clean it.

A clean and tidy desk will reduce stress and boost good time management.  Some study suggests that about 15% of our time is wasted looking for misplaced files, paperwork or that post it that you scribbled a phones number or email address on.  The trouble with not keeping paperwork under control is that it piles up, and then your desk ends up as a storage area rather than a workplace.

Where to start for a clean desk –

Cleaning your desk properly may take all day so its best to make a date for this job and block off a realistic amount of time, but once a date is made then stick with it.  Get the supplies you need in advance, some things you will need are –

  • Paper files
  • A black marker
  • Filing Trays
  • A waste bin
  • A recycling box
  • A Shredder
  • Holding boxes & File boxes
  • A4 box file

Sort the surface of your desk –

Clear everything off the top of your desk; this is the time to sort through all the clutter and to decide what you keep or what gets tossed. The following are an example of the essentials that you absolutely need on your desk –

  • Computer & Printer
  • Phone & Fax machine
  • Paper trays
  • Desktop diary and calendar
  • Notebook and a few pens
  • One or two photo frames maximum

Now its time to tackle that paper work –

Use a good management system for paper, most of all clutter on desks is paper so break it down like this –

Inbox –Use a standard stack-able letter tray; place all documents that you haven’t had time to deal with yet here, from post that just arrived to files given by colleagues for your attention.  Ideally this tray is dealt with twice a day; a good idea is to deal with this tray every evening before you finish your day so that you have a clean, empty tray for the next morning.

A good process for your inbox paperwork is quite easy; break it down like such –

  1. Do it – if it takes less that a couple of minutes get into the habit of just doing it.
  2. Delegate it – If you are not the right person to do it then send it to the correct person for the job.
  3. Defer it – If it takes more than a couple of minutes and you do not have the time to deal with it place it in your action tray.

Incubate Box – place another tray on top of your inbox and place all paperwork and items that are not ready to be dealt with yet.  These can be anything from project sketches and ideas to invitations or information on upcoming events.

Action Tray – Place all paperwork requiring an action from you in here, from forms to be filled out to documents to be read and reviewed.  You do need to keep a close eye on your action file as much of this paperwork often comes with a deadline.

Projects Rack – use a small file box to hold all folders for active projects that are happening now and once projects end file the folder in archives within your filing cabinet.  For each new project create a paper file marking the project on the front with a black marker, this is a good habit to get into.

Filing Cabinet – if you haven’t got one then it’s a good idea to invest in one.  This should be used for projects with are completed and archived.  If you run your own business this is a good place to store all bills and documents that apply to the business.

Dump boxes (rubbish bin, recycling box and shredder) – As you sort through your entire paperwork mountain place your clutter in the boxes that apply, recycle all that you can (such as old magazines, company handouts etc), shred any paper work that may be sensitive and be sure to empty these boxes regularly.

Now that you have dealt with the surface of your desk, clean it, get out the furniture cleaner & a duster and wipe down your desk, clean the surface of your computer and printer, and polish the glass on your photo frames.  Once you get this far you can start on your drawers applying the same principle.

Once you have done all of this stand back and take a look, how does your desk look now? Does it look more inviting? Does it look like a place where you can be happy to work for hours at a time?  A clean and organized desk makes you feel better and is a good first step towards better time management in the workplace (or the home).  You desk serves a purpose, you should be able to process, store and retrieve whatever you need quickly and with ease.  Your desks purpose it to help you produce, the cleaner and tidier it is the more effective and efficient you will be.

So what does your desk look like?

I am a Stress Management Coach (also a Holistic & Natural therapist and teacher). I am dedicated to managing stress, resilience and well-being, my training courses and consultancy are designed to help create a working (or home) environment where resilience is enhanced and well-being is protected, allowing people to respond positively to challenges and perform at their best. I provide in-house training courses, consultancy and workshops to private and public sector organisations (also one-on-one sessions). I specialise in providing practical training for managers and employees aimed at minimising the risk of stress and enhancing well-being within the organisation.

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  • Hi Catherine, Official welcome! not that the comp is over. Great message and so true! my desk has been mess free for few years now, learning & maintaining a good work-space was one of the best business moves I ever made. It comes highly recommended 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Hi Catherine,

    I must admit I used to be one of the “messy desk people” and totally agree that there is nothing better than being able to just put your hand on somehting when you need it 🙂 although I still have to give myself a little shove every now and again to keep it clean 🙂

  • Hi Catherine. Great pointers clearly made – thanks. I used to be “Mr Messy Desk” but since going out on my own have learnt to have everything easily to hand and all important things are filed correctly away with things I don’t need on paper shredded and recycled!

  • Anonymous

    Great article. But when did you take that photo of my office? LOL.

  • Anonymous

    great article Catherine. I would describe myself as a halfway house. I’ve been trying to follow the Getting Things Done practice, sometimes successfully but most times unsuccessfully.

    Your post has some great tips, which I’m going to put into action.

  • Thanks Niall and I’m happy to be part of the Bloggertone world. I agree a well maintained work-space is a great business move, cutting down on lost time and decreasing stress.

  • Thank you for the comment Brian, and your are so correct when you say ‘nothing better than being able to just put your hand on something when you need it’ – this can apply to any area of our office, home, car or briefcase. Thanks for reading.

  • I wasnt going to say anything Greg…. lol

  • Thank you very much Barney, its a great feeling to have everything to hand and knowing that when you need to retreive a document its filed correctly, no time wasted searching for paperwork.

  • Thank you for reading Frank and I’m glad that you found some of the tips useful. Catherine.

  • Hi Catherine,
    By the end of reading the post, I thought to myself “I’ll file this post away and come back to it”
    Wonder how many others would have that thought – and without making a reference to it or submitting to it – it can get lost in the vastness that is the (Inter)net.
    So filing and storing is all very well, but it is up to everyone personally to ensure they have a system they understand and can use properly.
    You have pointed out simple systems such as intrays and folders – as MOST people still deal with a lot of paperwork – no brilliant software package could handle that. Another point is a lot of paperwork can become overwhelming. It can be tempting to just “file” it but without a system in place, it’s useless.
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful tips, and welcome to the Bloggertone world 🙂

  • you are looking very well, sitting at your messy desk, Greg 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, must be the new hairdo!

  • I always need these reminders. I find it really helps me to clean up after every project.

  • Great post Catherine. I have a saying that our outside environment is a reflection of what’s going on in our head -> messy desk = messy head!! We could probably do with your directions on clearing a messy head with so many of us having a messy desk!!!

  • Anonymous

    Welcome to Bloggertone!

    We underrate how much our environment affects us. It can happen quickly too. It’s good to remember to tackle the mess one step at a time. It’s so easy to feel overwhelm when faced with a mountain of papers, files, and other things we keep thinking we’ll need someday.

  • Good advice. You’ve spoken for all of us here. 🙂 I have a part of my desk that I piled up the drafts, printouts and it’s ‘stressful’ to see them each time. I do need an action tray, filing rack by the side so they can be kept properly – out of sight but easy to refer to when needed.

    Social/Blogging Tracker

  • Thank you for the comment Elaine and its nice to be part of the Bloggertone world 🙂

  • Great to have you on board. You will help to keep us all stress free and calm 🙂

    Just to clarify above, when I wrote “Wonder how many others would have that thought – and without making a reference to it or submitting to it – it can get lost in the vastness that is the (Inter)net.” I was not referring specifically to your post but things people read in general on the internet.

  • Very useful post Facunda. I already know I’m going to have fun playing around with those in the near future.

  • Very useful post Facunda. I already know I’m going to have fun playing around with those in the near future.

  • @37b80f46c3622a6b1e0a16c9f20c4035:disqus Great post. A lot of these WP plugin roundups tend to over-focus on eye-candy operations, and ignore genuinely useful, nay indispensable alternatives. I know options with respect to Caching & Minify and why you would use them (too many clients on the one share hosting shard), have used 301 Redirects for similar reasons, but WP Security Scan looks like a real find, especially on sites with too many admins (like one that I am building now: – ~15 people with admin rights). Installing it now.nnHowever for me qTranslate is the peach. I have seen professional translation plugins like WPML (site 5?) but nobody seems to get it when I try to explain what a translation plugin REALLY means. Too many suggestions along the lines of Google Translate. I actually have a potential client who really wants something along these lines (she is bilingual).

  • Facundo

    Hi Richard. Glad you found the suggestions useful. The guys that do qTranslate seem to really get it so if you decide to go that way you can expect even more features in the future I’d say. n

  • Thanks Mairu00e9ad. Trying out new plugins is something I enjoy too of course 🙂 n

  • Excellent Facundo! Will add the ‘related posts’ one for sure. n

  • Anonymous

    Great list there. I also think it’s important to have a plugin to give users the ability to share a post they like on any social network, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc. Found a neat one today: n

  • Facundo

    Thanks Tina. Makes sense, especially if you have plenty of older posts!n

  • Great selection Facundo – there’s so many plugins out there, it’s good to get recommendations.nnnI’ve just installed Dagon Design Sitemap Generator – another useful one.nn next up is WP Security Scan…

  • Some really useful Plugins there Facundo. For SEO do you prefer the All in One SEO Plugin or the SEO Ultimate Plugin?

  • That is a good one Simon. I use Digg Digg but it can slow up a site if you opt to use all of the different buttons. n

  • I’m not sure if you’ve tried it yet Beatrice, or if Facundo will agree, but I’d opt for Joost’s wordpress SEO plugin ahead of both mentioned. Still technically in beta and continually being developed and improved, but already a superb (and stable) option.nn list Facundo. The security scan is a new one for me, looking forward to trying it out.

  • Facundo

    Thanks Jennie!n

  • Facundo

    @twitter-201285346:disqus & @twitter-155752094:disqus I normally go for All in one SEO because it is generally compatible with other plugins. I’ve tried Platinum SEO which is great but a thing to consider is that once you choose one of these SEO plugins if you then want to change you may end up having to re-enter metadata again or find a way to export it and import it (and it can be a bit messy as this is not built in). In short, I tend to decide based on the plugins I may need down the line too. n

  • Facundo

    Very true Beatrice nn

  • A very valid point Facundo, both on compatibility and on import/export flexibility. nnMost of the tools mentioned are compatible with the SEO data transporter plugin (, but it can still be messy if you’ve a high level of customisation on your site. Regardless of what methods you use to achieve it (Joost’s tool has a nice and tidy import/export function which works pretty well), ensure you have a safe backup before proceeding. It can cause serious headaches if you run into a problem down the line without a safe restore point.

  • Hi Facundo. A good list.nnnI’d also add a spam filter like Akismet. Not so important when you start off first but as you increase your profile online, targetted spam does come it’s way :)nnnCheersnnBarneyn

  • Facundo

    Thanks Elaine! You can probably try out number 7 too without too much pain 🙂 n

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