Messy Desk? Here's How To Deal With It

Messy desk

Does a messy desk really matter?

The trouble is that stuff piles up. Mess gets made, and you end up wasting time looking for papers, equipment and supplies.

The cluttered desk is a storage area rather than work place.

The state of your desk affects two aspects of your work; how you feel and how you function.

1. It affects, even directs, your feelings towards your work.

Desks and feelings?!

Well, you spend a lot of time at your desk. How you feel about it affects your effectiveness. If it’s a mess how does that make you feel about working at it? What would it be like if you could walk in and see your desk clean, clear and organized?

Mess means stress, clean means calm… and you can have that feeling after reading this.

2. It helps, or hinders your ability to produce work.

A clean desk that makes you feel good is the first step towards better time management at work or home, but it needs to be function properly as well. Your desk serves a purpose -- it should enable you to process, store and get to whatever you want, quickly and easily.

It’s important to remember that your desk's purpose is to help you produce. The condition of your desk limits or supports your ability to do your work effectively and efficiently.

Turning a messy desk into a clean, clear and organized workspace

People let their desks get messy. They don’t know what to do with things so they deal with things on a case by case basis. The result? Indecision, inaction… and more clutter.

Instead, create and use systems for the things you use the most.

You’ll waste far less time making repeat decisions for things that really don’t deserve your time and attention.

1. Decide to do it

The first step? Try it. If you don’t like it, you won’t have to try hard to get a messy desk again! Give it a go and see how it affects the way you feel and function.

Block off a realistic amount of time. You may not have a day to spare, but you won’t get a properly clean desk in 10 minutes either. 30-60 minutes will give you time to make a real difference.

2. Do it later

Once you’ve decided, do it, but not today. That would be a classic ‘stimulus-response’, the hallmark of poor time management. Sorting your desk takes a bit of time. Unless you really have nothing else to do, cleaning it today would mean something else gets pushed back, left or avoided.

Instead, schedule it in for tomorrow, or on the next day you know you’ll have the time and supplies (see below). You can then approach it ready, prepared and in the right frame of mind to clean it properly.

3. Get ready

Spend a few minutes to make sure you have the following:

  • Waste bin
  • Recycling box
  • Shredder
  • Holding boxes
  • A4 box file or tray
  • Polish and duster
  • Computer cleaning kit
  • Computer cable tidy ties

Okay, the last three aren’t essential, but, hey, you want this messy desk really clean, don’t you?!

4. Sort the surface

Clear everything off your desktop except the essentials. Think of your desktop as the most valuable ‘real estate’ where you work. Whatever is on your previously messy desk should now deserve it’s place.

Examples include:

  • Computer
  • Phone
  • Paper trays
  • Desktop diary
  • Notebook and pen
  • One or two photos

Everything else? Take it off the desktop. This is the time to get rid of the junk you don’t use, return the things you borrowed and put back what you need.

5. Pare down your papers

Paperwork is like liquid. Once spilled it goes everywhere. And like liquid, it needs to be contained.

Whatever paperwork you have on your desk should go somewhere other than all over your desk top surface.

Learn how to organize paperwork to keep your once messy desk top papers organized, but for now, it’s easy. Chuck it all in a capture tray or, preferably, an A4 box file. Or two. Or even three…

6. Deal with the drawers

As with your desk surface, the things in your drawers should earn their keep.

What equipment and supplies do you use regularly? Use a good quality desk drawer organizer to keep the best, then dump the rest.

Not sure whether to keep it or not? For now, put it in a holding box. If you don’t need it in the next six months, you probably don’t need it at all.

7. Dust and polish

Okay, you’ve cleared it... now clean the thing!

Dust the surfaces, wipe the screen and clean the keyboard. Apart from the hygiene benefits, you’ll enjoy using a sparkling, fresh smelling clean desk. Make sure you use a proper computer cleaning kit, though.


Once your once cluttered desk is clear, it’s easier to keep it that way. You shouldn’t need to schedule a regular end of the week or month major clean up if you tidy as you go.

Learn how to organize your desk to ensure you maintain an organized desk as well a clean one.

Make it a habit to operate a clean desk policy (some companies actually have these), and put things back where they belong after you’ve used them. At the very latest, make sure they’re returned at the end of the day.

So, that messy desk is now clear and clean. You may still need to put a few simple systems in place, but you can now do that feeling calmer and more on top of things.

Like this article? Feel free to print it off for future reference.

But don’t leave it on your desk.

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