How To Sort Out Your Desk (And Be More Productive)
Photograph by Mr Luke Kirwan
Optimise the time spent sitting in the office with our guide to stimulating workflow.
Apparently, as office workers, we spend an average of five hours, 41 minutes at our desks each day. That’s 35 per cent of our conscious hours, or five years in an average working life. Depressing, right? But given a considerable chunk of our lives is spent like this, it makes sense to make the most of it. So why not set up your workstation in a way that boosts productivity, so you can get away sooner? If a timely escape seems a distant dream and your desk is in disarray, the following advice may be of some assistance.
Establish a left-to-right flow
Mr Matthew Perman, author of How To Set Up Your Desk advocates a logical grouping and left-to-right system to process work. Start by placing your in-tray, to-do pile, phone and paper on the left-hand side of your desk and leave the right side clear. When you need to work on a specific task, move the relevant material into the middle of the desk, and when you’re finished move it to the right, filing away everything on this side at the end of the day. “This leaves room to spread things out when you are actually working and gives you room to breathe, which keeps your thinking from getting all walled up”, explains Mr Perman. If this exact set-up seems a tad clinical, it can always be tweaked to work for you. The important thing is to have a methodical process, so your desk remains free of unnecessary clutter.
Get a plant
In 2011, The Journal of Environmental Psychology published the results of an experiment on the effect of foliage on productivity. Test subjects were divided into two groups – half were made to sit at desks with leafy, flowering plants, while the others went without. The findings revealed that the subjects with a plant on their desk had a higher tolerance to mental fatigue while performing challenging tasks. Perhaps it was the extra O2 emitted by the flora that helped. However, benefits can also be reaped if you sit near a window and can see foliage outside, as the colour green has a calming effect. You might have concerns about sustaining a living desk companion, in which case, it’s advisable to take the low-maintenance route with a cactus, peace lily or aloe plant.
Drown out the noise
That girl from marketing is chatting loudly about the indiscretions at last night’s office drinks, phones are twittering away incessantly and the fridge keeps making a funny noise – it’s enough to break the resolve of a Tibetan monk. So, try drowning out unnecessary audibles with some noise-cancelling headphones. Researchers at France’s Université de Caen Normandie have shown that listening to classical music can enhance our ability to concentrate and process information. They concluded that the genteel strains of the genre stimulate a heightened emotional state, making us more receptive, in addition to encouraging restful sleep and consequently, a clearer head. Curiously, German composers came up trumps, with the works of Messrs Johann Sebastian Bach and Johannes Brahms particularly effective.
Invest in your own stationery
Dr Albert Einstein famously said: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign of?” We’re often told that a clear desk is the key to efficiency, but it doesn’t mean you need to turn yours into a bare, aseptic plank, as Dr Einstein would attest. In a 2013 experiment examining the effect of open-plan offices on employees, scientists Drs Gregory A Laurence, Yitzhak Fried, and Linda H Slowik found that the lack of privacy amplifies stress and emotional exhaustion, which personalisation can help alleviate, as it makes you feel more in control of your space. So, ditch the drab office stationery and get your own. Not only will this add character and personality to your desk, but in this digital age, there’s something quite satisfying about jotting down a hand-written note on actual paper, and having a decent pen and pad on your desk is sure to help keep the ideas flowing.
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