Each year, right around the beginning of April, my family would embark on a week-long spring cleaning journey. Each room in the house had its own checklist, and each member of the family was responsible for tackling at least one task every day. As a kid, I absolutely hated it, but it made my mom so happy. She would go from being stressed out to being calm. From frantic to unburdened. It was a remarkable shift.
As much as she appreciated the results, I never thought I cared one way or the other. Dust on the baseboards never bothered me, nor did those tiny tufts of dog hair that were so deeply wedged in the creases of our carpeted stairs. When I moved out on my own, I just tried to keep things clean on a regular basis. A big multi-day cleaning event no longer seemed necessary.
It wasn’t until becoming a business owner that I began to truly appreciate the value of a ritual like spring cleaning.
Is Clean “Better”?
People work differently. Some people prefer to have a place for everything and everything in its place, while others prefer to be able to see everything all at once. To an outsider, a cluttered desk may look disorganized and messy, but the person who owns it may have a system for knowing where each individual thing is. Researchers all over the world have conducted various office organization studies, and it seems like no one method is “better” than another. It seems to come down to what works best for the individual.
I feel better knowing that a perfectly clean and organized desk isn’t crucial for productivity. I like to be able to see everything that I’m working on, while I’m working on it, and I feel plenty productive working this way. That said, I’ve learned that even I benefit from a good deep-clean now and then, especially now that I’m working from home.
Start From Scratch
One of the first things I like to do when cleaning up my workspace is remove everything from the desk and put it on the floor. With everything off the desk, I can wipe it down and start anew. There’s something motivating about a bright, shiny surface. Then, looking at everything I have on the floor, I can systematically choose what goes where, and if something even makes it back onto the desk at all.
I have a tendency to make piles. I know what each pile is, and I could probably tell you exactly where a specific paper is in a stack, but it’s still a cumbersome system. I’ve always known there had to be a more efficient way. As I was doing my spring cleaning this year, I pulled the recycling bin over to the desk to toss a bunch of papers in it. Then it hit me. Why wasn’t that bin sitting right next to my desk? Sure, walking across the room isn’t that much of an effort, but when I’m on a roll with a project, I’m much more likely to “pile and file” something, and possibly forget about it until much later.
Think about your own space: Do you have everything you need? Do you need a recycling bin or trash can right next to your desk? Do you need a stack of drawers to put folders in? Do you need a small pull-out tray under your desk for supplies? Make sure your workstation has all of the necessary parts, and your daily experience will be much more efficient.
Backup and Delete
For me, a far more daunting task that cleaning my physical workspace is cleaning my digital one. With hard drives getting larger and larger, it’s easy to keep files hanging around. With email being stored on external servers, there’s never a reason to delete anything. All of us are guilty of digital hoarding in some way, shape, or form.
The more projects I take on, the more files I have to store. I have to make sure that I have files readily available for clients when they need them, and I want to have instant access to everything. Last week, my computer dramatically slowed down, and I found myself waiting forever for even the simplest of programs to load. At first, I was worried that my computer was reaching the end of its life (a terrifying thought), but then I decided to see what might be sitting on my hard drive.
I was appalled. I had so many files that I knew I wouldn’t need to access anytime soon. I am meticulous about backing everything up to an external hard drive, so why on Earth was I keeping everything on my computer’s hard drive? It’s simple—it happens gradually over time. “Oh I should hang on to this in case _________,” or “I’ll just keep this one until I get a newer version from the client.” Whatever the initial reason was for saving something, I inevitably got busy and forgot to go back and clean out the files.
The great thing about backing up to an external hard drive is that it is still so easy to access anything on it if I need to. I can plug it in and instantly pull up any file I need in the future. Knowing that everything was saved elsewhere, I went through my entire internal hard drive and deleted more than half of it. Freeing my computer from all that unnecessary data made an enormous difference. I’m running at full speed again, and I’m saving valuable minutes each day as a result.
I still haven’t gone through my email inbox, but that’s next on the list!
Make the Time
You may not have a day or even a half-day to set aside to deep-clean your workspace. You do, however, have a few minutes each day to dedicate to cleaning or organizing one small part. You don’t need to have a spotless desk to work well, but a little spring cleaning could make a world of difference in your productivity and your stress level.