5 Tips for Taming Clutter, Online and Off


messy deskEven when you work 100 percent virtually — no pens, no paper, a laptop, and web-based tools and applications — clutter seems inevitable.

I’ll admit, I haven’t gone completely paperless (is it even possible?), and while my clutter in no way compares to what I used to accumulate in previous (non-web) jobs, it still gets in the way at times and needs to be tamed.

Here are a few tricks I use to keep it in check.

1. Keep flat surfaces clear as much as possible.

Desktops, tabletops, filing cabinet tops, and every other flat surface in your workspace should be kept completely clear — no stacks of paper, no files, nothing. Once daily, clear every flat surface in your office. Not only will it keep you from getting frustrated by not having a single surface to set something on, it will also help you stay on top of your work (you know, all those buried to-dos and sticky notes).

2. Do “quick sweeps” regularly.

Give yourself 10 minutes (set a timer, if necessary) and do a quick sweep a few times per day. Put away stray pens, notes, supplies, empty cups, trash, and anything else that has managed to get out of place.

3. Empty your inboxes.

Email, feed readers, to-do lists — they’re like breeding grounds for clutter, and they pile up quickly. At least once a day, clear the decks. Work to completely empty your inboxes so that you don’t get behind and start feeling overwhelmed.

4. Every two hours, set aside twenty minutes for two-minute tasks.

Find those tasks that can be done in two minutes or less — quick email responses, checking your voice mail messages, filing, straightening your desk, running through your to-do list, etc. — and power through them every two hours. Over an eight-hour day, you could get thirty two-minute tasks done this way!

5. Clear your computer screen.

Start work in the morning and before long, you have nine open tabs, and you’re only using two of them. When you stop to do your two-minute tasks or empty your inboxes, go ahead and clear your desktop. It will keep you from getting distracted and keep your computer from slowing down. (Tip: If you need to remember to do something with one or more of the open tabs, send an email to yourself with the subject line, “To Do Today.” Then you can clear your mind from worrying about forgetting something and focus on the task at hand.)

While it’s fairly easy to keep my office (somewhat) organized these days, I still have to take the time to do these few housekeeping tasks. They only take a few minutes, but they save me a lot of frustration and improve productivity.

What quick tips do you have for staying clutter-free? Share your ideas to keep things straight.

Image from Flickr by Matthew Simantov


Alison Cross

My God – did you sneak in and take a photo of my desk?! All that’s missing are the lego bricks and the penless lids and you could have been in my office.

Great hints :-)


Amber Riviere

@ Jonathan – I can’t wait until I can move to a Mac!

@ Neil – I wish you would have taken before and after shots. I’m glad it helped.

@ Del – That’s a flat surface. No cheating! :)

@ Sylvana – Let me know how it turns out.

@ Steven – I know, clearing away past work is just as important for productivity as getting started on new work, but it doesn’t feel that way sometimes. I find that I have more energy after clearing the decks, though.

@ Diane – I agree, there’s nothing more important than getting “in the mood” to clean! Do whatever works; I like music.

@ MSimdottv – Uh oh, was that you? Sorry to use you as an example, but I did like the ambiance of the photo, if that helps. :)


Maybe I should take it as a sign that a photo of my desk was used on this article. Time to clean the desk!


Force yourself to pick up and put away 10 things. Sometimes this helps me “get in the mood” to clean, other times it only gets 10 things put away.


For me, the most important thing is to set aside time every day on your to-do list to clear your desk / computer / mind of clutter. As an ardent procrastinator I often feel guilty when I take time out from ‘work’ to clear my desk, but then find I get nothing done because of the clutter.

Setting ‘clear desk’ as an allowed task for each day helps me spend 15 guilt-free minutes tidying up.

Sylvana Lalla

Thanks for the tip. I feel like I am constantly trying to tidy my own office and I seem to get nowhere. I will try your tips this week and hopefully make a difference once and for all. It looks like a good strategy.

Jonathan Hung

I’m on day four of using Things, a GTD application for Mac, and despite a fair amount of cynicism, I have found it has added order to my otherwise unorderly life.

Comments are closed.