Dirty Desk? Clean it Up!

I’ve never been one to have a messy desk. You can ask my very first boss at my very first internship and he would agree that my desk was always impeccable; almost eerie, like no one worked there. Yes, I have pictures and reminders hanging up; it’s colorful but it is very organized. I am in the minority when it comes to desks like this.

A new CareerBuilder.com survey finds that 16% of workers say their desks are 75% or more covered with work and other materials! Some 38% say more than half of their desktop is covered. The survey also says that 13% of people have files that date back 5 years or more. My heart is racing just thinking about the mess and CareerBuilder.com agrees. Nearly 2 in 5 employers say that a messy desk gives them a negative perception of a person and 28% say they are less likely to promote someone with a messy work space.

Does having a “messy” desk cost companies money?

Yes, yes it does. Our collective messy desks and time spent looking for misplaced items costs corporate America $177 billion annually, according to a 2010 study by Brother International. That price tag figures those minutes spent daily hunting for misplaced files, pens or documents added up to 76 hours – or nearly two weeks of work – per year.

I know you may be thinking, “I know where everything is on my desk, cluttered or not.” To that I say okay. It’s your call whether or not you want to keep your desk in shape. Proponents in  both the messy and clean camps agree on these ways to improve your workplace efficiency and organize around your mess:

1.       Place important tasks at eye level

Let’s call this one “rising above the mess.” Its purpose is to pull out the things that require either immediate attention or long-term attention, and keep them at the visual forefront. A daily planner and written checklists are great ways to pull important items out of the clutter. It need not be literally at eye level, as long as it serves the same purpose.

2.       Don’t fight your habits – Create a system

Keep an eye on what you already do and then create an organized system around those habits. Do you always misplace your keys on your desk? Consider putting up a hook or having a “catchall” bowl for the corner of your desk. Create an area on your desk for things to take care of now, things you will deal with later, and things to file away for reference. Your forward planning will trick the lazy parts of your brain into positive action when it counts.

3.       Stay focused

 Once you have a clean desk remember to keep your focus – only have on your desk what you are currently working on so you can give it your full attention. This makes it easy to maintain over time.

4.       Leave time at the end of the day to clean off your desk

Even though you might not be finished with your project, wrap it up to a point where you can file it away and leave your desk clear for a fresh start tomorrow. Not only will having a clutter free desk be easier on the eyes, it will help you make your time at your desk more productive.

A cleaner desk makes you and those around you feel like you have things under control and perception goes a long way. There are people out there who will argue that a messy desk equals a creative mind. I work in a creative field and have been known as a “creative person” once or twice (What? With a clean desk – never!).  I’m not saying stop your free-thinking and creativity processes, but get it together people. Becoming organized will help you take charge of your day and your life; and in the end that leads to more time for being “creative”.

What does your desk look like? Here’s a glimpse at mine.


Kimberly Kelsey, Marketing Manager, Red Book Solutions and B2A

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3 responses to “Dirty Desk? Clean it Up!

  1. I have a messy co-worker. She used to have a cubicle but she “forced” her way into an office because the cubicle overflowed. The office she is in now has boxes all along one wall dating to 2009 and papers all over on top, under, around her desk, empty cans of soda, a crutch from when she broke her ankle, and more and more just keeps piling up. I have approached my boss about getting the boxes moved to storage and he says he’s going to do it but that’s been the story for months. The whole department looks like we are hoarding. It is awful! What do I do? Please help. Thanks!

    • Yuck! That is quite the predicament you are in when management is a no show. I suggest that you get all the staff together for a general meeting and lay down rules for the office. Include bathroom, kitchen, and office tidiness. Put the rules down on paper and have everyone sign it and hang up in the common areas. When management fails, someone has to take leadership. Since you’re not the only one who cares it can be a team leadership effort.

      Try not to openly call out your co-worker as a slob or accuse them by name in the meeting; keep it anonymous and professional. And if that doesn’t work I came across this fun little website called Annoying Co-Worker (http://www.annoyingcoworker.com/) where you can anonymously send a complaint to clean up their office or else! Hope that gives you some ideas to try.

  2. hahah this was funny. i like the website above annoying co worker. Im going to check that out. I had a similar problem as well and we made it a joke to enter her in a contest for the messiest cubicle. It actually worked! she got the point i think… more than ever before! tell your friend to look at the twitter of the contest… then maybe they will join??? they will get the point!https://twitter.com/PimpMyCubeCF plus they can get their desk cleaned up and “pimped”

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