The value of a clean work space


One of the most zen things you can do for your mind is to do a deep-clean of your entire work space. Mine is at home, where a 3 year renovation is reaching its end.  Over the last few months my desk became a holding place for cards, receipts, gadgets, coins, pens, pads and what not.  

I could work around everything, and kept putting things into piles to neaten it a bit.  One thing I’ve noticed, though: I really don’t feel creative in this space.  When I sit here, I’m wading through contracts, emails, projects and I feel like I’m weed-whacking more than value creating. 

Often, I write my posts at a coffee shop, on a hand recorder on the deck or on a plane.  Today I decided to restore my creative space in my work space.  I took everything off the desk.  Threw out the garbage and filed the keepers.  I wiped down every surface, each piece of equipment down to the cords and the power strips.  

Then, when I put my workspace back together, I went for sleek over stacked.  Now I feel like I can seriously get both kinds of work done here: functional and creative.  Also: The act was both inspiring and meditative.  I decided to clean up my work space with the same level of detail I need to pour into any project I’m hired to do.  I took pride in finding the smallest details to attend to (such as blowing the dust out of all the electrical in/out sockets).  Because it was a mindless activity, my mind was alert but not engaged.  It buffered in the background, giving me creative thoughts later — like this post.  

I got this idea from research I did for my keynote address for ASBO last Saturday.  I found compelling research (Greening America’s Schools) that demonstrated a link to healthy/clean and organized study spaces and increased creativity and productivity.  When I saw my junk pile yesterday, I decided to leverage this insight and “eat my own dog food.” 

You should do this too.  You can find the time.  If you can, do it yourself, it’s a healing experience.  Focus on: 

1. Surfaces free of loose paper.  A good productivity rule is to only handle a piece of paper twice (once to read, again to file/return/dispose).  It’s time to lose those piles. 

2. Get rid of all the dust.  The above research directly talks about clean and dust free workspaces. 

3. Don’t forget your equipment, especially your laptop.  Dirty keys and screens are not inspiring.  Their existence stands as a reminder that you don’t have a minute to even wipe off your stuff.  

4. Clean up all the cords.  Wipe them down and make more sense out of them to avoid both clutter and fire hazards.  

5. Let the sunshine in.  If you’ve kept your blinds closed, open them to let daylight lift your spirits.  Your eyes will adjust and the screen will still be readable (unless there’s direct light).