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Get Organized! How to clear the desk clutter

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Everyone deserves a workspace that promotes calm and allows for focus. That principle applies to children and adults alike.

In today’s “work from home” environment, many adults are wrestling with how to create a workspace in their homes. Others are driving to an office where their desk is a nightmare. 

Last week, we used the Tickler File to get the surface of that desk clear. Today, let’s tackle the inside of your desk. Nobody else can see what’s hidden in those drawers except you. But you can, and you deserve better! 

What's in those desk drawers?

Open your lap drawer. Be honest, how many pencils do you find with broken points, pens whose ink dried years ago, and half-used packets of sweetener and ketchup? Are you one of those people who have two staplers in another drawer: the one that works and the one that is either jammed or out of staples?

If we opened yet another drawer, would we find a partially-used ream of paper with a dog-eared corner on the entire stack, unopened mail from last month, and a couple of used Styrofoam coffee cups that never made it to the trash? 

How about the “tech” drawer? Behold the array of CD-ROMs (unlabeled), vintage floppy disks (both 3.5 inch and a few 5.25 inch, also unlabeled) and flash drives that contain who knows what.

Clean it out 

Step one is to empty those drawers totally, and I do mean totally. Trying to organize one drawer at a time usually results in junk simply being shifted from one place to another.

Empty the entire desk. Don't be surprised if the contents cover the floor. To fix the mess, first you must make the mess.

While the drawers are empty, clean them. A damp cloth takes care of the dust and the mess from that leaky packet of soy sauce.

While you are at it, scrape all the bits of tape that used to hold notes to remind you of something that you probably never saw at the right time anyway. Fingernail polish remover does a fantastic job of removing the sticky residue.

As a finishing touch, figure out just why it is that one drawer does not operate freely, and fix the problem. Since your desk is where you spend a significant part of your workday, a little hindrance which persists daily is like the pebble in your shoe during a five-mile hike.

Make a plan

Before you reload the desk, decide what earns a place there and what does not. The desk is not a storage closet.

It is a place which holds what you need on a daily basis. Keep a handful of paperclips and rubber bands, not several boxes. Keep a few sharpened pencils and pens, every one of them that comes your way. Keep a memo pad, not a dozen of them.

Find a place to store extra office supplies. The box of staples, packs of Post-it notes, reams of paper, rolls of Scotch tape, boxes of file folders, rubber bands and paper clips will all find homes there rather than in your desk. When you need more paper clips, you will know where to get them.

When you return from a conference with the obligatory conference bag containing pads of Post-it notes, pencils and pens imprinted with the names of exhibitors, don’t dump it in your desk. Put the new supplies in the supply area, not in the desk.

If this article motivates you to do something with your desk, clip this article and get to work. Next week, we will look at how to put it all back together.

Frank Buck is the author of Get Organized!Time Management for School Leaders. "Global Gurus Top 30" named him No. 1 in the Time Management category for 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.