Clear the Clutter

As Flu Season ramps up into its fourth month, I am sure that we have all used up some PTO time that we would have rather saved. The Center for Disease Control estimates that there have been anywhere from 22 to 31 million flu illnesses in the United States since October 1st of 2019. Whether it be for your own sickness or your child’s, staying home from work sick is never a fun time. Especially the mad rush to get caught back up on all the work that piled up during your unplanned Sick Day. In other words, getting sick not only affects our health, but also our job performance. So what can you do to cut down on your Sick Days? Most doctors and health professionals recommend getting the flu shot and washing your hands regularly as the best practices to avoid the flu each season. That being said. I did both of these this season and still got sick. What was I missing? Well, it turns out that there is one more thing that you should be keeping clean not only during Flu Season, but also the rest of them too! That thing is probably right under your nose as you read this, it’s your office desk!


organize your desk by clearing clutter
Keeping your desk clean and cluttered free makes a great impact on your life, but it is truly an ongoing process.
No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Yes, the modern office desk is really the perfect breeding ground for bacteria especially when you begin to consider how often we spend time at our desks. As I mentioned in my previous blog post (hyperlink) office workers can spend from 5 to 6.5 hours a day sitting at their desks. This gives us plenty of time to not only pick up some nasty bacteria, but also spread some of our own. Especially if you are prone to eating lunch at your desk. I know I was guilty of this unsanitary habit before I did some research on the subject. According to University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, Ph.D., findings in his 2007 study, the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. This means that whether you are eating lunch, snacking, or even enjoying a doughnut one of your coworkers brought in for the office, you are literally better off eating in the bathroom than at your desk. Eating at your desk is also a double-edge sword in the sense that it not only increases the odds of you contracting the bacteria lingering on your desk, but food droppings also help spread new bacteria. As rotting food attracts bacteria carrying pests and insects to the one place you spend most of your day. Simply eating away from your desk can cut down on the bacteria, but it won’t eliminate it all. It may be tempting to shorten your lunch hour as a means to get more work done, but not if it results in you missing time because of a foodborne illness. Do not fret though, because there is a solution to both the bacteria on your desk and the efficiency of your work.

cluttered desk
Dirty & Distracting

Yes besides simply cleaning your desk, you should ultimately strive for decluttering your desk as well. When I first started working I saw my desk as an extension of who I am as a person. I felt that my desk should reflect the vast amount of projects that I was working on throughout the day. Almost as an attempt to recreate the famous picture of Albert Einstein's desk on the day of his death, I stacked binders and folders full of information detailing past problems and their potential solutions. I was proud of my messy desk and the completed projects that littered it, but my pride was simply ignorance as I did not realize the true harm of my clutter. We have already reviewed how a messy desk can negatively affect our health, but its impact does not just end there. You see dirty desks can also make workers less efficient, which in turn can lead to increased levels of fatigue and stress. As a messy or overflowing desk is a constant visual reminder of the work that you have yet to finish. Disorganization can slow down your ability to quickly find the materials you need to complete your job. Even worse, a careless clutter can even result in the permanent loss of important information. I had this happen thanks to my messy desk. It was a rough day at work but it also marked the turning point for my desk. Luckily thanks to the help of my bosses, and a few organizers from ICC’s catalog, I was able to organize my desk in a manner that worked best for me. While still keeping some mementos to remind me of my out of office life.

All in an Arm’s Reach

The key is to start by dedicating a day to getting your desk back to zero. Kind of like clearing out your inbox, you need to give a deep clean to your desk and remove anything that you do not use on a daily basis. These will make up the essentials and give you a good starting point on the reorganization of your workspace. You will be surprised how little you actually use the materials you store on your desk. If something does not make it into your work essentials then you should opt to put it in some sort of filing cabinet or area that is out of your direct line of vision as it will only serve as a distraction. Yes, even the picture of my lovely wife (hopefully she doesn’t read this part) is located to the far left (my non-dominant side) of my computer. It may seem harsh but removing distractions from your immediate workspace will result in a drastic increase in the longevity of your workflow. Just as you want to clear distractions, you simultaneously want to bring your essentials closer to you. The key is to determine an item's place based on how frequently you will be using it. I like to follow the Arm’s Reach Rule as a general guide for the layout of my essentials. This means that everything that is essential to completing my task on a daily basis is within an arm’s reach, and for those items that I occasionally use, I keep just out of an arm’s reach. However, don’t be afraid to get creative with this rule. A little cheat that I truly cherish is my Kensington Smartfit Spin2 Monitor Stand, as it not only works as a monitor stand, bringing my screen up to my eye level, but also doubles as a storage space for the things I only use during certain parts of my day. If you don’t like a spinning stand then you’re in luck because they also make stands with drawers (hyperlink). By taking advantage of the different filing organizers, you can quickly cut down on your desktop clutter. Draw dividers also can serve as a great way to maximize your storage space.

Another thing to keep in mind when reorganizing your desk is which hand is your dominant hand. Even if you are ambidextrous, we all have a preferred hand for writing and using our mouse. Thus, it only makes sense to keep not only your phone and mouse on the side of your dominant hand, but also your journal and writing utensils. Even simple motions like reaching across one’s body can build up unneeded stress on our muscles by forcing them to move in an uncomfortable manner. It is for this reason that I keep charts and maps that I simply look at, to my left, and the objects that I physically interact with to my right. Once your desk is organized in a manner that sets you up for solid workflow, you will find it much easier to keep clean as well! By using these smart tactics, you will start to notice an improvement in not only your productivity, but also your health.

clean desk
A True Change

Keeping your desk clean and cluttered free makes a great impact on your life, but it is truly an ongoing process. As the seasons change, so does the nature of our work. Thus it is important to reassess your office layout and look for little changes that will be beneficial to the way you work. The same goes for keeping your desk clean. Remember, our desks are breeding grounds for bacteria. That’s why I like to take the last 15 mins of each Friday to tidy up my desk and give it a quick clean. So try it out, and take a look at some of the organizational and cleaning products that ICC has to offer. You’ll be surprised how much change a clean slate, or desk, can bring!