Ten years ago my desk generally looked like the aftermath of a small colourful explosion. I was just out of college and getting started on blogging and designing and I’d read somewhere that a messy desk was a sign of creativity, so I let the chaos grow. I had bucket-loads of cute office supplies, pin boards layered with swatches, cryptic sticky-notes on my monitor, heaps of unread magazines and at least two moribund plants. One rainy morning, I just pulled up the garbage bin and started throwing stuff away. By dinner-time, I had a clear desk and an enormous sense of relief. If this sounds familiar, and you’re feeling weighed down by your messy workspace, or you’ve been inspired by Danna’s thoughts on How to Live Lighter: A Minimalist Decluttering, here are my top tips for how to create a minimalist and productive workspace for yourself.
Step 1 // Visioning
Tackling a big decluttering job can be daunting. If you take a few minutes to inspire yourself with a picture of how it will be when you’ve finished, it will help to keep you on track.
- Close your eyes and imagine how your workspace will look, notice what items are there and which are missing.
- Pay attention to how you’re feeling, perhaps you feel lighter and more organized already?
- Now that you’re feeling motivated and energized, open your eyes and make a list of only the items that you need to do your work. Challenge yourself – for example, why do you need a stapler? If you are using it to staple things you’re printing, do you really need to print them? If you don’t need to print, do you need a printer? Could you digitize everything and go paperless?
Step 2 // Clear the decks
- Take everything off your desk, pick up anything on the floor, empty drawers, and remove things pinned to the wall.
- Find the items on your list of essentials and put them to one side.
- Throw out anything that falls into a ‘no regrets’ category. This includes things like old magazines, dead plants and so on.
- File anything that you have to keep but doesn’t need to be on your desk. This includes things like bank statements, utility bills and so on.
- Put things like spare pens, calculators, and so on, out of sight in drawers unless you use them every day.
- You’ll probably be left with a miscellaneous collection of things which you’re not sure you need. Put them into a box. Anything you haven’t needed to get out of the box in the next month, you can safely dump.
Step 3 // Reset
- Consider location. An ideal workspace benefits from natural light which helps reduce stress, improve mood and increase concentration. Place your desk perpendicular to the light source to reduce glare and shadows.
- Put the essential items that were on your list back in your workspace. Check that you have everything you need, now is the time to invest in a new desk lamp if your lighting was always inadequate, or to buy a gorgeous new notebook so you won’t need a new sticky-note collage.
- You now have a clean slate that includes just the essentials you need to do your work. According to researchers at Harvard, you’ll be 1.5 times more productive on challenging tasks now your workspace is neat than you were when it was messy.
Step 4 // Add joy
A minimalist approach is one that seeks simplicity and balance. It’s not about reducing to an empty, sterile, utilitarian, workspace. It’s about creating an environment where there is space for your ideas and creativity to breathe and grow, a space that refreshes your spirit and brings you joy. There is nothing wrong with adding items simply because you like them. I have draped a beautiful set of Allen Roth crackle string lights around my workspace because even when I am feeling tired or unproductive, simply looking up and catching sight of them lifts my heart so that I can get back to work. However, it’s important to do this in a controlled way so that you don’t add too much. Try the steps below.
- Add a single item back into your workspace that you love. The item can be anything: a family photograph; a beautiful piece of glassware; a luxurious throw. Be very selective.
- Leave the item in your workspace for a few days, notice how often you look at it and how it makes you feel. If you stop noticing it, or it fails to lift your spirits, consider removing it from your working area.
- Continue adding items one at a time. There is no right or wrong number of items to add but it’s important to stop as soon as you sense that you have enough. You’re aiming for a small, carefully curated selection of objects that you value.
- Consider adding a plant. Scientists at Exeter University have found that indoor plants can increase productivity by 15% in addition to improving the air quality and your sense of wellbeing - just don’t forget to water it!
Step 5 // Maintain that Zen feeling
When you’re busy it’s very easy to let your redesigned space quickly become cluttered again. Try these tips to keep things under control.
- Buy a big waste bin. Having plenty of space to put your garbage is likely to encourage you to throw things away.
- Be mindful about paper – think carefully about printing, post, newspapers, and magazines all of which can sabotage your space very quickly.
- Once a week, check your surroundings and do a quick declutter.
Confucius said, “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”. We confuse ownership with happiness and quantity with quality and we fill our days with a multitude of gadgets and tasks but we’re not always as productive as we’d like to be. I hope you’ve taken a little inspiration from these ideas for creating a minimalist and productive workspace, I’d love it if you’d share this article if you found it useful, and let me know your thoughts and how you get on in the comments below.
Nadya Jones is a blogger and an entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Allen Roth HQ, a blog about home design and improvements. With her husband Brett, she writes tips and tricks they learned while renovating their house in Raleigh, North Carolina. Nadya handles the interior design. Brett implements her ideas in a cost-efficient way.