Optimize Your Desk


How clean should your desk be? Does a cluttered desk send the message that you’re unorganized? Does it matter?

Sure, it matters if your desk’s messiness is throwing off your creativity and sense of well-being. A clean desk can make you feel in control and organized, and more productive. I’ve learned that the hard way.

More often than not, my own desk looks like a wartorn nation. There is rubble. Books, papers, pens, cups, CDs, usb drives—it’s like an amateur juggler came out of a Staples and tried to do his act above my desk. So I’ve been trying to keep it clean, and I’ve learned some things.

A clean desk has less distractions, which is useful. Our brain is constantly on the prowl for ways to put off working, which is why, on any given day, we have sixty tabs open in our browser. But at least a clean desk will be free of magazines, papers, etc., all the things that make you want to distract yourself from work

A clean desk feels organized. I’m the type of person who likes a little bit of clutter, but if a desk is too messy, I’m not happy to work there. A cluttered workspace can make your mind feel cluttered, but an organized desk feels organized. Plus, now you know where all your things are. No more searching for envelopes, pens, scraps of paper, your laptop, etc.

It’s easier to stay that way. A clean desk is typically a stress-free desk, and, more importantly, a clean desk is easier to keep clean. No more picking around piles of junk when you want to wipe it down.

Mugs build up fast. If you’re a naturally tidy person, this one might sound like a missive from another planet. But sometimes, in the evening, it’s easy to just leave your empty coffee mug on the desk, especially if you’re working at home. And in the morning, it’s really easy to just grab a new clean one. And then half your desk has dirty dishes. Great. Staying on top of coffee mugs is a no-brainer, and important for keeping an optimal workspace.

You don’t have to be crazily clean to have a tidy workspace. Ever walk into those houses that are so super clean and tidy that they feel more like an IKEA showroom than a home? Same deal here: a sterile desk is alienating. Ditto your papers and stuff–a single neatly stacked pile can feel just as organized as four precisely labeled caddies. The trick is to clear away the dirt–the dirty dishes, the scraps of paper, the gadgets, the wrappers, etc.

Are you ready to take the plunge? It might seem daunting, but the clean-up process is easier than you think.


It’s time for a desk overhaul. First, take everything off the desk. The laptop, the computer monitor, books, pencils, everything–remove it all until it looks empty and dusty. Give it a good wipe, and then start deciding what needs to be there.  

Your computer? Probably. What else? Do you have a tablet that you use every day? Get that on there. Pens? Yes.

Once that’s done, you can start judiciously replacing your cool stuff. Desks are like homes—keep them too empty, and they start to feel lifeless. Set down some personality, but keep it tidy and organized.


I hate articles that equivocate, but in this case, I have a good reason. For some of you out there, and for possibly many of you out there, messy desks might actually help boost your productivity, with the clutter forcing you to simplify your thought processes. So if you’re someone who works best with a mess, keep it that way.

If you only clean your desk to look good, you might be hamstringing your productivity. And it’s your productivity that matters the most.

But if a tidy and organized workspace feels great, there’s nothing better than starting the day at a clean and tidy desk.
Brian McLellan is the editor of BALLnROLL. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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