In an effort to find ways to bring spring about a little early, even though the groundhog and Mother Nature haven’t gotten the memo (I’m looking at you, Boston), we’re focusing our attention to spring cleaning our desktops, both virtual and actual. If you’re one of those people who tends to file documents and photos in a scattered array on your desktop, and then tell your appalled IT manager “I know where everything is, promise!” this post is for you. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be using every opportunity to keep our desktops and workspaces clutter and stress-free.
Two recent studies correlate clutter or mess with stress and explore how that clutter affects our decision-making. According to a 2011 study conducted by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, having many competing items in our line of sight all at once limits our brain’s ability to focus, think clearly, and make quick assessments. These results can be applied to the physical state of your office or desk, or the desktop on your computer. In another study conducted by the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota (2012), participants in an uncluttered environment tended to make healthier food choices and donate more to charity, while those in a cluttered environment exhibited more creative tendencies. Depending on your role in your office, the results of this study could benefit you either way, but there is also a correlation between healthy eating and lower stress levels, which offers benefits all around.
In an effort to have spring be your most efficient and productive season yet, I’ve compiled a list of best practices for decluttering your space and allowing your brain to process information more clearly in your work environment.
- Develop a naming convention system for your files. Here at The YGS Group, we sometimes have hundreds of files dedicated for one issue of a publication alone. In order to keep everyone on the same page, we’ve developed a naming system that we follow for every issue: [issuedate]_[pubname]_[authorlastname]_[section]_[title]_[manuscriptstate]. With this system in place, the designer, the writer, and anyone else who is accessing the files knows exactly where that piece belongs in which magazine. This naming system can be applied to any file you receive or develop. Instead of issue dates, you could use creation date, or when a file is updated. Instead of publication name or author name, you could use the client’s company name and your contact at that company. This system keeps everyone in the office informed at every step of the process.
- Develop a filing system. Instead of keeping every file on your desktop, utilize the organization tools your computer already has. On my Mac, I color code files and folders so I know what is urgent and what can be trashed. I have one folder on my desktop called “Ongoing Projects” and within that folder is every magazine I have responsibilities for. The projects within those folders are narrowed by issue date. If a folder is color-coded red, then it needs my attention. Anything marked yellow means I’m waiting for a follow up from someone else, and a green mark means it’s been completed and can be moved to the trash or into a long-term storage folder. Aim to organize and file once a day, so you can start the next with a clear desktop and, presumably, a clear head.
Bonus tip: Instead of keeping your applications and program shortcuts on your desktop, use the search function to quickly find what you’re looking for. This eliminates duplicate shortcuts of one program and, once again, keeps your workspace clutter-free.
- Clear your downloads and trash folders regularly. If you’ve noticed your computer is a little sluggish lately, try to remember the last time your cleared your downloads or trash folders. Especially if you tend to download photos or other large files, this can affect your computer’s processing power and get in the way of efficient use of your machine down the road. Schedule 15 minutes a month in your calendar to go through your downloads and trash folders. In my case, since I color code anything green that can be moved to trash, all I have to do is seek out anything not marked green and make sure I have a copy if I need it. Otherwise, my trash can be emptied. If you get in a habit of regularly filing anything you’ve downloaded, then your clearing that folder should be a breeze as well.
Bonus tip: Update your download preferences to download to your desktop instead of to a separate folder. This way, there’s a good chance there won’t be anything in your downloads folder because you would have already cleared it from your desktop soon after downloading the file.
- Use drawers and labeled filing boxes for physical files. Paper files seem to never go away, no matter how much we try to digitize and opt-in to paperless. Because paper takes up physical space, you may need to allow up to 15 minutes a week to categorize and file your records appropriately. If you start with a physical inbox or outbox on your desk, this may weed out the unimportant pieces from the beginning. The goal is to keep these pieces out of sight and out of mind, but accessible if you need them in the future. Using the same naming convention mentioned previously, but writing the name at the top of the page will be helpful in the future if you need to reference that piece.
Bonus tip: There’s always the option of scanning paper files and emailing them to yourself to file electronically and then recycling the hard copy, if that version isn’t needed. Always make sure you’re saving the file to a place where it can be recovered in the event of a system crash. Your IT team may allow you space on the company server to store important electronic files, if you’re trying to become as paperless as possible.
These ideas are just a start to the endless possibilities of spring cleaning your desktop, your office, and your life. Let me know what ways you’ve found to declutter and destress. Have you noticed an improvement in your mood, your productivity, or even your eating habits? Start the conversation below, and happy (early) spring cleaning!