Sometimes the most productive thing you can do with your time is to rearrange and clean your office.

Mine had become a disaster, with books and stuff EVERYWHERE.  Between new books I had bought, articles I had sent to the printer to read later and notes I wanted to keep for later I had every surface piled with papers and stuff. So it was hardly surprising that when I sat down today to figure out what I needed to work on I darn near had a panic attack. 

The clutter and dust left me feeling that I didn’t want to be in that room, and more importantly like I didn’t want to think about any of the things related to the stuff in that room.  Since that would be things like my classes, my dissertation, and really my long-term goals, that was a bad emotional reaction to have.

Some people thrive on clutter.  Some can’t deal with it at all.  I’m somewhere in between; I have a great deal of tolerance to a point, after which I either fix it or burn it all down.  Today I reached my limit.  Here are a few of the things I did to get it back under control:

  1. Deal with Loose Paper:  I’ve already written about the glories of my label maker, so the first step was to print labels for all those accumulated articles, put them into file folders and then sort those folders by topic.  When I was done I had 3 broad themes and less random paper laying about.  I could file or set aside as made sense.
  2. Have the right size storage for what you need to store:  For a long time I had been living with 2 4-shelf bookcases.  These were well past too small.  I had already had to get rid of (ie: sell through amazon) some stuff that was less relevant to my current work, but I no longer had space for things like methodology books and journals.  Books had taken over the chair, both levels of the cheap credenza and were starting to pile up on the floor.  After some discussion, we went to Ikea for 2 Billy book cases (Black-brown to go with our furniture).  These units are both slightly wider and 2 shelves taller than the book cases they replaced.  To give you an idea of the overflow, there is less than half a shelf empty between the two of them. 
  3. Dust: In the process of moving everything I discovered a layer of dust that would make a haunted house jealous.  I didn’t have time for a truly exhaustive cleaning, but dusting made an enormous difference in both appearance and the mood that was created.  Vacuuming would have been nice as well, but is less visible.
  4. Get rid of things: It turned out that some of that paper needed to be recycled, not filed, and that some of those books needed to just go away.  I didn’t get rid of a LOT, but the process of going through it all helped me get rid of a few things. 
  5. Put things back where they belong:  I have a desk.  It has 1 drawer, in which I have a pen tray.  Yet there were pens EVERYWHERE around the room.  They would get lost under whatever papers were dropped on them so that I would have to take a new one out each time I needed to write something. The same goes for filing; I had created a filing inbox that I never seemed to empty.  Today, I did.  Suddenly a huge stack of visual clutter went away.
  6. Scan and back up your computer:  Run things like CCleaner and Spybot while you clean, then run a fresh backup (if yours aren’t already automated using something like Syncback).  This kind of regular maintenance keeps your computer running fast, and doing it while you do other things is a good plan.

The room is no longer unpleasant.  Rather the opposite.  The top of the credenza has nothing on it at the moment except a bottle of lotion and a picture.  (When I get working I like to keep everything close at hand, and the credenza makes up for how little desk space is left after the keyboard and mouse.) 

The room is still crowded – this is the 3rd bedroom in our house, with the 2nd functioning as a guest room, so this room has to provide storage as well as being my office.  A true den would be a luxury, one I don’t expect for a while. 

But the room is now back to being a relaxing space.  I can find the things I need, I have clear space and no more piles of unidentified stuff.  Now I can concentrate again.  That, to me, makes a very productive day.