Organizer (6) ー Increasing productivity, health and creativity through desk organization

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More and more research point it out that in our modern society, we sit long time because of computer and desk work (office worker, students, artists, etc.). That means how you deal with desk environemnt affect your work, day and life.

For the last decades, we’ve faced the problem of sleep deprivation (phone/computer screen light is the enemy of quality sleep), the critical issue which affects our productivity and health as we are supposed to sleep one third of our day/life and take care of sleeping environment. In addition, we are having another life-long problem: we sit longer than ever, particularly in front of desk (even more than the hours you spend for sleeping) which also affect our productivity and health. Thus, we also need to take care of the desk environment (on and around the desk).

With that in mind, in this post, I will mainly talk about how organizing desk environment affect productivity and health, through the following points: why do should care about desk environment; what are the common problems and; how to organize desk and habit making.

Why should we care about the desk environment

Simply put, it is because we sit for long time (maybe too long), and use desk more than ever, and we have so many distraction which affect our productivity. Let’s take a quick look at the history of chair and desk.

History of chair
If you look at the history of chair, it is quite clear that sitting is a very new practice for ordinary people. After long period of hunter-gatherer times, we moved to farming, then chairs swept in to lift the wealthy above the poor (literally). It was around 1800s when cheaper chairs were produced due to the industrial revolution. By 1900s, the majority were sitting at home and work, and now we sit more than one third of our day/life.

History of desk
Along with the chair history, desk has also evolved for the last centuries, and more rapidly in the last decades. In addition, with the advent of new technology and computer, the speed of change is unprecedented. Take a look at an interesting video and image of the study conducted by the Harvard Innovation Lab below, which illustrate the impact that technology has had on our lives over the last 35 years.

140922desk-08.jpg

These show that computer replaced many jobs previous desk material did (except the sunlight, although I would not put san glasses on the desk).

So, things got more convenient and simpler. Happy end for this entry, right? Maybe you might be interested in this previous post before your leave (How to make a simple desk). Thanks for your visit.

…Wait! No, it is not finished yet as things are not so easy. Let’s take a look at some common problems most of us face.

Common problem we are facing around desk

Do your desk and its surrounding environment look like the one in the right above picture? I would say NO for the most of of the case.

In other words, we still have a problem of cluttering the desk environment, which affect our productivity. It is worth pointing out that it’s quite normal to accumulate things as you add more tasks along the way. So you need to be aware of the importance of organizing well, and take constant action through habit making.

In addition to physical items, it is so easy to get distracted, especially with your smartphone (phone call, social media notification, etc.). Therefore, although I like the right above photo of the evolution of desk, putting your phone on the desk is not recommendable.

In other words, it is fair to say the following:

How you do things reflect how your desk is organized and vice versa.

Source of distraction and how your body function

There are so many benefits of organizing your desk: it gives you physical space, keeps you on task, increases efficiency, makes you look professional, and most importantly you feel good. If your desk is unorganized, on the other hand, you get the opposite results. They are mainly related to your body function such as eyes and brain.

Your eyes can catch many information even at unconscious level, which means that the more staff you put on/around the desk, the more your eyes try to catch. For example, if your eyes are catching 100 things (books, files and papers, stationery, phone, poster, colleagues moving a lot, etc.), your eyes are using more energy than having 3 things in your eyesight.

If you look at how brain works, any distraction is the enemy of your focus and productivity. For example, the study of the University of California has shown that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus after the distraction. This means that if you get distracted every 23 minutes or less, (e.g. looking for the document for long time, you see someone moving, notification of e-mail and social media, etc.), it is likely that you are NEVER in the focused mode, which will affect your productivity in a negative way.

Also, if you keep sitting for long time, you tend to get stuck in the same kind of mindset, so good ideas might not come out.

With those in mind, let’s look at how we can organize desk environment.

How to organize desk environment

It is quite similar to other physical space/staff organization (declutter at home, simplify things to carry for traveling and moving out, etc.): you identify needed items, get rid of the rest and distraction, and make its habit.

Identify your principal activities and items

Everyone is different and so are principal activities and what you put on/around the desk.

Having said that, it is important to identify principal activities instead of putting things on/around the desk you need for every task including the small one. Many research including the American Psychological Association show that what you think is multitasking is ineffective and inefficient (what’s happening is switching from one to another without deep focus).

To show my example, below are my principal activities at home: items that needs to stay on the desk constantly (and the items I need sometimes but can keep in the shelves and other places).

-Language learning: laptop, stationery (dictionary, books)
-Blog : Laptop, stationery (drawing pad, camera)
-Online course and other learning activities: Laptop, stationery (books)

You see what are essential? Laptop and stationery, that’s it. Additionally, water, tissue paper and sometimes stand desk (about which I will mention later). Sometimes I put my computer on the stand desk (as shown in the photo below) and if I get tired, I just sit down.

<Home desk>

If it’s my job office, I just keep screen, stationery, mouse and a cup of water.

If you have struggle in identifying your essential items, you can apply 3 times rule by adjusting this from 1 year span to 1 day: that is, if you feel the need for specific items more than 3 times per day, you keep it on the desk and if not, just take it away. As complementary tools, you can use pen stand, folder, etc.

Identify and take away non-priority items

Simply put, all the rest of the items need to go away from the desk. Period. This includes but not limited to cellphone, papers, books, clock, poster, etc (again, depending on your priority activities and items). Especially, cellphone is the enemy of productivity and focus (remember that you need around 30 min to refocus). Some may argue that it is needed in case of emergency. But it is very rare (how many emergency call did you have for the last 3 months? I had none). You can also check your phone when you take a small break or walk (I will touch upon it later).

If you can really put the rest out of your desk, you will be able toget rid of  majority of items and learn what’s essential to you, which helps other physical space organization.

Some tips

Also if you see the spot at job where your colleagues move a lot, that can be a eye distraction, so you can try to block the sight by putting something in between (shelf, board, book folder, etc.). For the noise distraction, you can use headphone (for the sake of space, I would recommend small bluetooth earphone. Also, if you have stand desk for health reason (will come back to this later in this post), that might be good.

Habit making

It is important to understand that WE MAKE MESS by default, so to keep your desk organized, you need to make a habit of organizing (clutter→clean up the mess, putting too many things→take unnecessary items away). Putting one small post-it saying “organize” could help, if you wish and it fells great when you no longer need it after having such a habit (I did similar thing which worked well).

Now, let’s take a look at desk organization more holistically by touching upon sitting, standing and moving.

Sitting, standing and Moving 

Sitting
Although I talked about how to organize the desk environment for better productivity, it doesn’t mean that it is ok to keep sitting. In fact, if we sit too long (which we do), it harms us more than we can think of (higher risk of death through diabetes, blood clots, heart disease, cancer, etc.). Thus, more and more offices are encouraging stand desk which allows you to work while standing still (you can find an example in the above photo).

Standing 
However, is standing the solution? Yes and no. Yes, because you need to avoid sitting too long, and no because you don’t want to stand still either.

For around 3 years of being a chef, I almost never sat during the day (13 hours of standing still). Was I healthy enough? Not really. In fact, I got varicose vain most probably because of that experience (no scientific proof, and another possible reason was traveling a lot especially via long bus ride). So the recipe for healthy life is not to sit nor stand still for long time.

Moving
The best way is mix moving with sitting and standing: sit down for focused work (e.g. writing)→ stand up for less focused work (e.g. reading) → go for a walk for 5 min (pomodoro technique, which need 25 minutes of intensive work followed by 5 minutes of break). This techinique can boost your productivity and healthy life, as well as enhance your creativity, as it is scientifically proven that you come up with creative ideas when you are walking, taking shower, etc. If you are not used to moving it, you can put post-it saying “sit-stand-move” and/or use pomodoro app (25 min of work and 5 min of break).

In conclusion, we need to deal with the problem of cluttering desk and sitting too long, so it is important to make your system of desk environment by organizing, reminding yourself to stand up and walk. When you come back from the walk to your organized and clean desk, you might feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Let’s enjoy sitting, standing and moving.

The learning of this time 

In order to boast your productivity, healthy life and creativity in a modern society where we sit for long time in front of desk, it is crucial to organize desk environment with less distraction, sometimes stand up and take a walk. 

Thank you for reading this article. If you like it, please don’t forget to subscribe. If you have any comment/question, please feel free to leave. Have a great learning!

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