Photo of Clean Workspace

Desk Clean-up and Folder Suggestion

Today did not start out as a very productive day, but I did accomplish a some important things as far as learning, and maintaining my focus, and by the end of the day I got this blog post written.

One thing I did accomplish early in the day was completing the assignment for a lesson I took yesterday. It did not produce much, but it is laying the ground for more productivity, because the course itself is partially about being more productive in life. I’ll be writing a lot more about this course in the future.

I also followed one of my personal goals of processing at least one piece of paper off my desk per day. I’m down to a medium-sized pile, and I managed to get quite a few processed after starting off intending to do just one. That’s exactly the way I was hoping it would work.

Did some memory work, read some motivational material, practiced an hour of scales on the guitar, and attempted a translation of a letter from a foreign language into English for a relative. I did learn some more of the language as I did it. But then I deviated, and started looking at Irish Gaelic, which I would love to learn some day, but now is not the time for it. I did manage to resist signing up for a daily email lesson in it. Last thing I need is another distraction.

I’ve found that over the last few days, after clearing my desk of every irrelevant item, that some others have snuck onto it.

Photo of messy desk


So part of today’s project is to get the desk back to pristine shape, and process some more of the papers.

But before I do it, I’d like to talk a little about the Ideal Work Desk. Everyone probably has a different Idea about it. Here are some of my thoughts about it:

I prefer not to have the computer on my main desk. I have a separate desk for that. I find that I organize my thoughts better on paper. Maybe it is a factor of my age and generation. Mainly I find it better to have the computer separate from where I do most of my work, so that I will not be tempted to check the time-sucking social media sites and my email every three minutes. This is something you might consider, as it has probably saved me hundreds of hours of bullshitting around over the last few years.

If I need to, I can always move right over to my other desk, which is adjacent to the work desk, and use the ‘puter. Or I can put a laptop on the desk if need be.

photo of clean desk

After the clean up process

I have a stack of “in/out” boxes which holds a small stack of unprocessed papers (to get to, sometime soon) in the lowest box, another small stack of papers (to get to right away) on top of that, a box of bills, receipts, checkbook to balance, etc. above that, and on the top stack is some stationery equipment (pens, markers, stapler, lamp, etc.)

That stack of boxes sits on the main work desk, right next to the computer desk, so I can reach it from either side.

The object of that stack is to empty the bottom stack within the month, get the “right away” stack down to a few papers, balance the checkbook and file away the receipts and bills, so I can reduce the whole shebang to just two boxes – one for a few “right away” papers and a checkbook, and the other for stationery.

Also on the main work desk is paraphernalia for “essential oils.” No, I do not believe in aromatherapy, but I do like the scents, and it is sort of a placebo-like ritual for me to light the burner with scent that I use to concentrate, and a different one at the end of the day when I’m winding down. Do they help? I think they do, for me. Do I recommend them? Not necessarily. One man’s placebo is another man’s hokum. But they do make the room smell nice.

Next to that are some hand creams. I use them for when I’m practicing magic effects. I find that my hands have gotten so dry with age that it affects my dexterity. I use Aveno in general, and sometimes glycerine, or some “special sauce” made especially for magicians.

You may have noticed the mirror. That is for magic practicing. It doesn’t distract me otherwise. Actually, there are a few concentration exercises you can do in a mirror, so it’s nice to have one handy. Whenever I feel like slacking, I can look myself in the eye, and say, “Really? You’re going to quit now?” or something like that. Your “other self” can be very motivating sometimes.

Next to the mirror is my secret weapon. This is something I would like to share with you. It has a story.

My late friend and mentor, Dr. Kent Lawson, was the most intelligent and inspiring person I’d ever met. I used to visit him in his home after he’d retired as a physicist and college professor to “sit at his feet” and discuss all manner of things with him.

Dr. Lawson had a condition that was not Parkinson’s disease, but had similar symptoms, like terrible shaking. Walking, writing, moving things around on his desk, etc. were daunting tasks. So he had to be hyper-organized. One way he organized his workspace was to have folders which held his different tasks and projects. They were stacked vertically on his desk, so he didn’t have to open a file drawer, or take one out from under another (in which case he would have inevitably spilled them all across the table.)

He could manage to reach the folders and take them out one at a time. That also kept him from dealing with the other ones. It wasn’t like he had a stack of unordered papers on his desk. They were perfectly ordered and reachable. And when he was finished with one, he’d put it away before taking another out.

Now, this man was a theoretical physicist and philosopher. His thoughts were not exactly simple. He managed to work through very complex projects using just this system. He did not use a computer. He never really learned how to use one. (He was deep into retirement before the use of a personal computer became de rigueur.)

His system always intrigued me, but being the slacker that I was, I never really gave it a try.

That changed a few weeks ago. I was at Office Depot and saw these colored folders on sale for 30 cents each. So I bought a dozen or so, in as many colors as they had. I managed to get almost all the colors in ROY G. BIV. I just couldn’t get violet, so I substituted black. Here’s a link to them for the regular price of 49 cents.

So I took just the amount of papers that I thought I could handle in a short time for each of my major projects, and assigned a folder for them. I’ve got eight of them, so I had to repeat a red folder.

As part of my daily routine, I go through each one of them. Ideally I’d like to give each one about half and hour a day, but so far I just go with the flow, getting as many of them looked into and worked on each day, for however long I can, or need to. So far I haven’t gotten to all of them in any one day, but I sure do get a lot more done on each of my specific projects daily than ever before.

I also keep a deck of cards and some coins for practicing magic behind the mirror, so I’m not tempted to take them out while working on something else. But when I get to the magic folder, I can get to the cards and coins easily.

This is a very simple and inexpensive system, and I can recommend it to anyone who’s desk is overflowing with “to dos.” If you have a project that involves lots of material, just take enough to work on for a couple of days and put it in a folder, and get all of the rest of it off your desk. Put it in a drawer where you can’t see it or something. Do that with all your projects. You can get to those papers when you need to, but you won’t find them calling to you as you concentrate on just what you have to get done now. When you’re done with the stuff in the folder, go get some more from the drawer.

With this method you will gradually work through all your material, systematically, without the nagging of seeing all the other stuff you need to get to right in front of you.

I know, I know, you want the other stuff handy in case you need it. Well, it will be handy, just tucked away where you know where it is. The main thing is, it won’t be in your face, keeping you from really doing the work at hand. (You know that’s what it’s been doing all this time, don’t you?)

So give it a try. See if you can limit what’s on your desk to what you only need soon, and have it color-coded, super-handy, and alone on your desk, beckoning for your attention, one project at a time.

Of course, analogous to this would be to make a folder (“directory”, for you Windows users) for each of your projects on your desktop, and put an alias (“shortcut”) of only the immediately relevant files for each project in them. Color code the icons if you know how. Make sure that these are the only icons on your desktop.

It took a long story to make a short point about making order on our desks, but I think it will be worth it if you try out the folder method.

Let me know your thoughts, improvements, etc. in the comments section.

Here’s to your productivity and satisfaction!

~ Brian

1 Comment

  • dan cawley

    Reply Reply October 15, 2015

    just discovered this website, it is really grt. and v. much needed by overly busy unorganized souls such as myself. cluttered desk syndrome ? Ha ! i think sometimes i invented it/ got my Ph.D. in it , lol . . . . . . gd. luck going fwd. with this site, i will check bk. often and tell my friends abt it. if i ever get more organized, i might even send u an article for consideration ! . . grt. job/ very innovative of u , as usual, B.F. !!

    – d.r.c.

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