Some years back, I worked with a team of people whom I adored. They were creative, funny, and worked harder than most anyone I’ve ever met. We put in a lot of long hours, and our days were fast-paced to say the least. Which is why, I suppose, several of them would get just a bit catty when one of our colleagues would take the time every so often, to stop what she was doing, and tidy her office space.

It drove people crazy to see her cleaning her desk, purging old files, and straightening office supplies, when everyone else was running around mad with stress, surrounded by piles of paperwork needing attention, had a mile-long backlog of emails, and about 1,000 phone calls to return.

How did she have time to be cleaning???

What she knew to be true for herself, which is actually true for most everyone, is that if she didn’t take time to be cleaning, she’d have mad stress, be surrounded by piles of paperwork needing attention, have a mile-long backlog of emails, and about 1,000 phone calls to return.

Keeping our physical spaces clean is the foundation to keeping our heads clear, and this is when productivity skyrockets.

We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re “so busy we don’t have time to clean”. What we really are is “so busy trying to find crap all day long” and “really busy wasting time rushing and scurrying and exhausted because we don’t know which way is up”.

This person had stellar results at work, and almost never seemed as stressed out as the rest of the team. But she was deliberate about how she managed her space and time, and it paid off.

By now you might be thinking, “that’s great Jess, but I have zero time for tidying my work space, I’m already putting in 10 hours a day and every minute is accounted for. I’m only reading your blog right now because I’m hiding in the ladies room actively avoiding a team meeting I’m supposed to be at”.

I get it.

Finding time to declutter our work spaces sounds practically impossible, but you’ve got five minutes. In five minutes you can get a whole lot more done than you think you can.

Try this:

  • Throw out any trash: Used tissues, napkins, wrappers, to-go boxes and bags or cups, broken rubber bands, outdated post-it notes or other hand-written reminders, used up pens, pencils and highlighters – you get the idea.
  • Grab any papers or notes that are sitting out “loosely” on your desk because they need immediate attention and put them in a new file folder. Same goes for any receipts you still need to enter into your expense account. You’re going to address this things immediately after tidying up.
  • Any office supplies sitting on the top of your desk that don’t need to be used right now need a home. Put them in your pen holder or desk drawer where they belong.
  • Put away any binders, workbooks, notebooks, file folders and the like in their proper place. If they don’t have a proper place yet, stack them neatly to the side (and commit to making a home for them as soon as possible.
  • Put any loose change or bills in your handbag or wallet.
  • Depending on the type of work you do, you may have things like samples (fabrics, paint, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics) strewn around. Put them back in their boxes, drawers or cabinets.

There you go. Five minutes.

We didn’t tidy your office completely, there are things that still need attention, but wow, that’s a lot of progress in almost no time.

Now, grab that file of things that needed your immediate attention, and knock them each out one by one. If they need more time and attention than you’re able to give them right now, keep that file in a handy location, perhaps a file bin something like this one, on the top of your desk, or give it first priority in your top desk drawer. Then, make note of needing to do these tasks in your planner or online calendar, and assign a time frame for when you’ll work on them later today or tomorrow morning.

Your turn.

Declutter your office space in no more than five minutes and let me know if you don’t feel less stressed and clear-headed almost immediately.

I’d love to see before and after pics – tag me on Instagram @jessmbarrett! Bonus points for anyone who already has a cocktail in hand (unless of course it’ll get you fired, then in which case, you’ll have to decide how much that matters to you).