21 May 2011

How A Clear Desk Improves Focus


I need everything neat and tidy before I can even start to think about work. I've always been the same. For years now, an integral part of my study routine has been to tidy my desk. To chuck the rubbish, file or recycle bits of paper that are hanging about, sort the random piles of stuff that seem to accumulate away...

Then, and only then, have I ever been able to concentrate.

And I'm not the only one! Conversations with other people (and not just students) has revealed that this is in fact an extremely common problem. Those who don't sort it, move it. To their bed, the floor, the bathroom, under their desk, the corner of the office. Wherever they have space, piles of stuff are relocated.

My recent foray into the world of minimalism and productivity has pointed out something that really should have been glaringly obvious, but for some reason never crossed my mind:

Have an empty desk.

Problem solved. Empty desk = no clutter. No clutter = nothing to sort before/during the time I'm meant to be studying. The result? No time wasted. I can literally just sit down and get on with it. It didn't even take me that long - under half an hour. To be honest - I'm actually really surprised by the results, both my productivity and my focus have definitely increased.

Benefits of a clear desk

1) I'm more organised - I've set up a simple system consisting of two plastic envelope folders. One marked 'Inbox' and one mark 'Uni Inbox'. Anything non-uni related goes in the Inbox folder and everything Uni related goes in the Uni Inbox. I go through these every couple of days and process everything.

2) Stuff (especially paperwork!) is easier to find. Because everything is either in one of my inbox's or filed I always know where to find it.

3) I have more space to actually do my work... Generally my studying involves at the very least my laptop and paper, usually a book or two as well. A clear desk gives me the space to spread out, so everything I need is easily accessible.

4) My mind is clearer. Visual distractions can provoke mental distractions. Seeing stuff around you that you know you need to deal with can interrupt your concentration on the task you're currently trying to complete. Knowing that everything I need to deal with is in my inbox clears my mind, I know that I'm not going to forget to do it because I empty my inbox's so regularly so I can just focus on the task at hand.

5) It prompts me to be tidy in the rest of my living space. Maybe its because I pretty much live in one room, but having a clear desk has made me generally tidier. Things that formally 'lived' on my desk now have their own place, or they've been thrown.

I had to start somewhere. And my desk - the place I spend a significant amount of my waking hours - seemed like a good place for this.

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