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Start Your New Year Off Right by Decluttering Your Workspace

Liz Peintner profile image

Liz Peintner

A wall with a clock, plant and lamp.

A new year means you deserve a fresh start in your work environment. Whether you work from home or in an office, reducing the amount of “stuff” in your space can clear your mind for a fresh start in 2019.

Let’s dig into the common kinds of clutter that we often deal with around the office and take action to get rid of it so you can focus on the real work at hand—your mission.

What to do with 7 kinds of office “stuff” that impacts your well-being

Stand back and take an objective look at your workplace. Ask yourself what gets in the way of your productivity and fulfillment. You’ll likely be surprised at what you learn. Here are common workplace artifacts that impact how you do your work:

  • Stacks of paper you never use. They might represent projects you’ve already completed, drafts of grant proposals, or notes on last year’s budget. Keep final versions if you refer to them regularly, and put them in a specific folder labeled “for reference.” If your paper stack includes items being stored for archival or documentation purposes, check with your HR department on how long they need to be kept and file them where they belong. Recycle or shred remaining items that don’t directly support the work ahead.
  • Leftover office supplies. Dried-up pens, forty binder clips in various sizes, and half-used notepads from a conference you attended three years ago can all be put in a central location for your entire team or sent to an office supply reuse facility.
  • Your smartphone. A 2017 study on smartphone use reported that “even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention ... the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity.” This means major distractions when you’re trying to concentrate on an important task. Unless your job includes social media management, find a drawer where your phone can stay while you’re focused on more important matters.
  • Items tacked to your bulletin board. Get rid of inspirational quotes that no longer inspire you, the phone number of someone you no longer work with, and articles you never refer to.
  • Extra inventory. Sure, boxes of annual reports, brochures, and company SWAG may serve as great footstools, but if you can avoid making your workspace a storage area, do so. Move current marketing items to a shared closet or an empty file drawer, archive one copy of each of the outdated versions, and recycle the rest.
  • Professionally-focused books or magazines you’re not motivated to read. If you were motivated to crack them open, you probably would have read them long ago. Either create a regular appointment on your calendar to read professional articles or give them to someone else.
  • Unsupportive people or toxic relationships with colleagues. Recognize that even the most productive and fulfilling physical space cannot cover up a poor working relationship.

Make time to clear the clutter

If you’re ready to dive in, there are a few different ways you might approach the task of freshening up your space.

If you can set aside an entire afternoon to dig in, that’s a great start. But if every workday is so busy you can’t commit a full afternoon, focus first on whatever induces the most stress. Then assess again in a week or so and determine what needs to go next. All of this stuff piled up little by little, and it can be discarded the same way.

Another fun way to clear the clutter is by engaging others on your team in refreshing their own workspaces. Call it your “early spring cleaning” or “end of the fiscal year purge.” Turn on some music, roll out the recycling bins, and make it a party.

And don’t worry, if an artifact you uncover in your decluttering stops you in your tracks and takes too much of your mindshare to make a decision, put it aside and come back to it later.

The key here is, however you do it, just get started. There’s no value in letting yourself be crowded out by things you no longer use or need.

Reward yourself with a new productivity treat

Now that you’ve invested time into cleaning out the clutter, bring something you love into your workspace. Focus on items or processes that give you energy, save time, and make you smile. For example:

Pro Tip: Making the effort to take notes on how you use—and say goodbye—to the clutter holding you back makes it more likely that you’ll learn something about yourself that you can use later. In this regard, the very best treat you can give yourself once you’ve refreshed your space is ten minutes to reflect on how it all went (in writing is best) and a moment to set an intention to stay refreshed throughout the year ahead. Your mental well-being—and your office mates—will thank you for it.

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Liz Peintner profile image

Liz Peintner

Liz S. Peintner is a leadership coach and consultant based in Denver, Colorado who has spent her entire career in the social impact field. She helps people to better understand what drives them so they can choose careers they love and ultimately make positive social impact in ways that speak to their talents and passions.

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