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The Science of Increasing Productivity: Clearing the Path

Welcome back. Recently, I spent an hour looking for my checkbook. I knew my checkbook was somewhere in my office, but it seemed to have mysteriously disappeared. Come to think of it, other items of mine were disappearing at a rapid rate, and my frequent frantic searches for them were never any fun at all. My explanation for losing so much stuff was that an invisible black hole was secretly whisking things away to another universe. But maybe, just maybe, there was another explanation. My co-worker had a theory. She said to me, "Of course you can't find stuff. Your whole desk and workspace is a complete mess." Well, She was right. As I looked around my office, I saw stacks of paper in every nook and cranny. I even had hanging file folders sitting on the floor, begging to be filed. So I decided to schedule the time to clean up my entire desk and office. While cleaning my office, I didn't find any black holes, but I did find my checkbook—and a few other things that had mysteriously gone missing.

Today's lesson is all about the importance of having your workspace be organized and clean. When our workspace is messy, it leads to lost time and productivity due to having to constantly look for stuff. Nothing is as frustrating as having to frequently stop and search for things just because you're disorganized. Furthermore, a messy work environment simply looks bad, and it can lead to distractions that interfere with achieving your goals. By cleaning up your work environment and getting organized, you can save yourself a lot of time in the long run—and it feels better. The fact of the matter is we're very influenced by our environment, and when that environment—such as our desk—is messy, it lessens both our productivity and our peace of mind.

I confess I am not a cleanly person. Yet, over time I've concluded that keeping my desk, my computer, and my office organized was worth the time and trouble. Unfortunately, this decision did not immediately make my office a bastion of cleanliness and organization. I had to set aside time each week to do the hard work of cleaning, throwing away stuff, and organizing. So I have 3 questions for you: 1) how clean is your desk? 2) how clean and well organized is your office—such as files and other needed information? And lastly, how organized is your computer? If any of these three critical parts of your environment are a mess, you need to create a plan to remedy the situation.

In my case, I've found that my ability to clean and organize is minimal—so whenever I can, I hire someone to help me out with it. Yet, some things I've had to do myself, and to make it tolerable, I set aside a small amount of time each week to keep my office environment up to speed. I even put this cleaning and organizing time in my calendar—that way I know it'll get done.

"So Sit up Straight in Your Chair, Take a Deep Breath, and then let it out with a long, slow sigh."


Right now, I'd like you to schedule some time this week into your calendar for cleaning and organizing your office. The amount of time you choose to set aside is up to you. If you've procrastinated on this task for a while, try to set aside more time—and even schedule a time for the following week. But if you run a clean and tight ship, maybe you only need to schedule a half-hour. It's up to you how much time you schedule, but make sure you actually put it into your calendar.

Once your office, your computer, and your desk are all in good shape, make sure you regularly schedule time—even if it's a small amount of time, to keep them in good shape. A well-organized office environment just plain feels good, and it has the added advantage of helping you be more productive. So decide on how much time you'll devote to that task this week, and either do it now or put it in your calendar for the week.

In our next lesson, I'll discuss a great way to make sure that, no matter how busy you are, you can create a balanced life while being productive.

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Written by

Jonathan Robinson