In the days when I worked for a large company, in an air-conditioned office, with a kitchen and a coffee machine *sigh*, there were certain rules that were expected to be adhered to. The corporate world comes with caveats, rules of engagement and expectations that have slipped since I’ve worked for myself.
Back then you were expected to spend the last few minutes of every day clearing your desk. Brownie points were awarded to those who managed to maintain a clear desk throughout the day, working systematically and being in a constant state of ‘presentable to visitors’.
My office was fronted with glass, and I was situated near the back door – every passer-by looked in as they entered and exited the building, and my highly visible desk was (relatively) uncluttered. I knew where things were, I had a three-tiered tray full of my ‘to-do’, ‘in-progress’ and ‘to-be-filed’ work and my top drawer would have delighted the stationery gluttons, with its neat rows of staplers, staple removers, rulers, highlighters and a multitude of other ‘essentials’.
The clear desk policy was intended to have other benefits. There were studies that apparently concluded that a clear desk reduces stress and improves productivity. In a team environment it also means that other people can find things on your desk relatively easily, should you be stricken with World Cup fever or some other transmissible disease.
In a freelancer’s life, there is no obvious need to think of your co-workers – the only people who visit my office in its current state are the dog and three children when they slip passed the obstacle course that is my attempt at keeping them out. I once, in a fit of generosity, taped a large rectangle of paper to one corner of my desk, naming it ‘Children’s Corner’ – it is now a graffitied wasteland, strewn with hairbrushes and pencils and crayons and other random objects which may, or may not have originated at a large fast food giant beginning with M.
This week, my cluttered desk and I reached an impasse. My ‘in progress’ pile (usually kept just adjacent to my left elbow) toppled meeting the debris accumulated to the south of my keyboard and completely occluding the screen of my mac. To my right were assorted piles, including a ‘to be filed’ and a rather random ‘household – to do’ which may or may not contain an unpaid VAT bill – I’m too scared to look. I was left with a 10cm * 7cm clear space in front of me and realised it was time to tidy.
Today I greet you from a clear desk – or as clear as it gets in this office. I have an expanse of space where my arms can rest naturally before meeting the keyboard. My to-do list is in clear view and my in progress pile has been reshuffled and addressed. There are still a few random objects here and there but nothing I’m unhappy with. I’m beginning an experiment – every day for a week I will spend 10 minutes tidying, filing, making my lists for the next day and I will note any change in my stress or productivity. So far today – so good, for one thing I’ve written this blog for the first time in a month and my to-do list is 70% complete.
Maybe there’s something in this clear desk notion? Now I just need someone to walk past the window and check it out…