A cluttered desk makes for a cluttered mind – and the same goes for a cluttered inbox, desktop, filing cabinet, or daily schedule. The unproductivity of untidiness can threaten our careers, happiness and mental health with stress, poor work performance and an unhealthy work-life balance.
For those working from home, the lack of physical distance separating our working and living space can make the impact of clutter even worse. Whether you’re a work-at-home mum, a remote employee, or an entrepreneur running a start-up from your home office, disorganised working habits can seep into your life beyond business hours. To revamp your workspace, it’s important to understand just why mess and clutter are productivity killers. Thankfully there are simple ways you can get back on track, from de-cluttering routines to a co-working space.
3 Reasons Why Mess Is Making You Less Productive
1. Clutter drains your mental energy
In today’s digital world, our workspace is not only physical. Prioritising and working productively is difficult with a cluttered inbox, disorganised computer desktop, or a sloppy weekly schedule. It’s necessary to allow time for the unexpected tasks that inevitably crop up for workers and business owners alike.
According to an experiment by Harvard Business Review, having mess around us during work interferes with our self-regulation – a particularly crucial quality for those working without external supervision.
Whether physical or digital, clutter forms a visual distraction that we have to block out in order to focus on the task at hand, wasting our precious mental energy. This slows our mental processes and cramps our brain’s ‘breathing space’ during tasks involving creativity and problem solving. When surrounded by distractions and mess, it’s harder to get in that creative flow and tap into our best insights, ideas and inspiration.
2. Mess causes stress
Then there are the emotional impacts of clutter. From an avalanche of emails pinging on your smartphone, to piles of paperwork or post-it notes swamping your desk, clutter signals a seemingly never-ending schedule of work to get through. This stress can be overwhelming, making you unable to relax even after you clock off from work.
Because we associate tidiness with efficiency, mess can also lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety. If you’re embarrassed by your disorganised workspace, you’re less likely to feel on top of your busy workload.
Plus, digital clutter can trick you into multi-tasking – better known as task-switching – which is bad news for your brain. Scientists have shown that multi-tasking actually makes us work slower. Having a clear workspace both around you and on your screen can help you clear your mind and concentrate on the real priorities rather than trying to tick off dozens of minor tasks competing for your attention.
3. Work-life balance: the call of the housework
When you work from home, potential distractions are everywhere: social media, Netflix and any pets or young children all vie for your attention. For work at home mums in particular, it’s easy to get sucked into housework during business hours. Ticking the washing, cleaning and other chores off your list can give you a boost, as you feel you’re getting work done. However, this isn’t the kind of work that pays.
Involving your family members in the housework outside business hours will help you resist the temptation to ‘just put a load of washing on’ or ‘quickly put dinner in the slow cooker’ during work, and prevent you having to catch up later. Better still, you could try out alternative workspaces such as a local library, café or co-working space to remove yourself from these temptations.
How To Boost Your Productivity
Tip #1: De-cluttering
First things first, a big clean-out may be in order to get rid of any non-essential items. Next, create designated spaces for all documents, supplies and stationery in drawers or closed cupboards, ideally away from your desk. Be sure to put everything back immediately after use.
Consolidate your notes and lists on a single list or calendar to help you visualise the bigger picture. Pending folders on both your desk and your email inbox can also be a lifesaver.
Tip #2: Routine
When working from home, make sure you have set routines at both the start and end of the workday to signal to your brain that work has clear boundaries. Simply tidying up your desk and writing a list of priorities for tomorrow as you clock off, before moving on to a clearly non-work task like exercise or meditation, can help you split work and leisure.
Over time, keeping stricter working hours this way should boost your productivity as you’re allowing yourself allocated, guilt-free ‘off-work’ time. By gradually getting the right habits in place, you’ll save your mental energy for getting your work done more efficiently.
Tip #3: Co-working spaces
The easiest way to avoid time-wasting distractions at home is taking your work out of the home. Co-working is an ideal solution for remote workers, offering a clear distinction between home and work without meaning a return to the dreary office cubicle we all know (and don’t miss).
For entrepreneurs running their own business in particular, the networking and collaboration of these spaces can offer both social and financial benefits for your business through industry events, mentors and other perks. Once you find a co-working space with the right services, facilities and overall vibe for you, it can present the best of both worlds for both your productivity and your happiness.
About the Author
Jock Fair is an entrepreneur and the founder of Little Tokyo Two, Brisbane’s largest co-working space.