Clean is Calm

Michael Lopp, of Rands In Repose, on how a clean workspace allows you to get in The Zone:

Try it. If your desk isn’t already OCD-tidy, go find a piece of paper hiding on your desk where upon discovery you realize its importance — was it important before your [sic] discovered it? Yes. Did it matter? No, because you forgot about it.

His article talks mainly about virtual desktops, but in any case, a clean workspace is often a tremendous boon for productivity.

Your external environment reflects your internal state of mind. When things are clean and organized, you feel calm and relaxed. When your desk is laden with things demanding your attention, you probably feel behind or stressed. I know when I’ve gone three days without putting my laundry away, going through my mail, or cleaning my room, I’m much more likely to get flustered or anxious for what seems like no particular reason. I’ll eventually get so fed up, knowing I still haven’t done what I’ve been meaning to do for days, that I’ll rip through those chores in a burst of productivity. And afterward, I immediately feel better. It’s like a great sigh of relief.

The more your desk accumulates piles of things over time (mail, books, papers, etc.), the more your brain reminds you, “Hey, you need to go through this stuff.” The longer you put it off, the more the task weighs down on you because you know you still haven’t done it yet. The thought of “Ugh, I need to do XYZ…” is still bouncing around in your head, and it will continue to bounce around up there until you either A) write it down, or B) do it. Since your mind only has a finite amount of space, it’s vital that you not leave too many things bouncing around at one time.

Of course, you might be a person who loves clutter and thrives under pressure; in which case, by all means continue doing what works for you. But if you’re at your best when you’re relaxed, try getting your environment to reflect your desired mental state. When your workspace is clean, you have more room to breathe, and you can focus on the one thing in front of you. As Lopp says in his article, “Distractions damage creativity.” I totally agree.

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