5 steps to a happier workspace

Amy Hamilton Chadwick

Are piles of paperwork draining your productivity and sapping your will to work? Whether it’s your home office or your workspace, clutter reduces your ability to be focused and productive – it can even make you more irritable. 

“Home offices can be even more cluttered than those in the corporate world,” says local decluttering and organisational expert Angella Gilbert of Gioia.

“It varies enormously but most New Zealanders work in a cluttered environment – they don’t have systems and they don’t know how to put them in place.”

Gilbert has 5 quick tips to help you reorganise your desktop and increase your productivity:


1. Embrace empty space

If you don’t reach for it every day, it doesn’t need to be within arm’s reach. Put your files in the cupboard, your stapler in a drawer, and your books on the shelf. At the end of each day, take a few minutes to clear your desk before you leave your office, so you’re ready to start fresh in the morning.

“Empty spaces create possibilities,” says Gilbert. “I will fight anyone who says they’re just as effective with a cluttered desk. Clutter is overwhelming and distracting and burdensome – it’s just not enjoyable.”


2. Banish horizontal paper piles

Piles of paper on your desktop seem to breed and multiply overnight; the average office worker spends an entire week each year searching for lost pieces of paper. Those piles of paperwork aren’t only a time-suck, they can also make you look unprofessional and disorganised to your boss and your colleagues.

Gilbert has a solution: go vertical. Buy vertical magazine boxes (like these), in which you can stand colourful files with clear plastic sleeves (like these). Each file is coded: blue for invoices, red for quotes, yellow for personal. You can instantly reach for the right file to find the document you need or slip a new piece of paper into the right place.


3. Create a digital filing system

Computer desktops plastered in files give Gilbert the heebie-jeebies – she believes your digital spaces should be at least as well organised as your physical spaces. If you’re saving everything to My Documents, you need a better system.

“Think of it like a big filing cabinet,” she says. “Each folder is a drawer of the cabinet and each subfolder is a suspension file. You can also apply the same system to your inbox, so you don’t spend so much time finding each email.”


4. Personalise without adding clutter

A tidy space doesn’t need to be sterile and impersonal. The trick is to customise your storage systems and essentials, providing you with a personalised space that is clutter-free. Gilbert keeps all her pens and pencils in a mug printed with photos of holidays, for example.

If you want a family photo, choose the best one and have it framed for the wall, rather than putting lots of small frames on your desk where you’re likely to knock them over.

You can also personalise your digital spaces with fantastic icon sets for your all your files. It takes just a few minutes to change your boring manila-folder file icons for something much more fun, whether your passion is travelcats or Daft Punk.


5. Grow something green

Bring a little bit of nature into your office and you can reap surprisingly impressive benefits. Plants reduce stress, increase productivity and help provide cleaner office air. They even seem to prevent illness in the workplace.  

Choose a low-maintenance plant like a succulent and think carefully about where you position it. The plant needs a spot where you can’t tip it over by accident, or inadvertently water your entire desk.


Still messy?

Despite what your co-workers might think, some perpetually untidy individuals can be both productive and creative. If you’re still not managing to keep a tidy desk, take heart. Some level of messiness may help to encourage us to be more creative and think in new directions.