The home office-you might think that it’s only become a thing since the pandemic, but history will tell you otherwise. You will see this familiar space popping up way back in history when local artisans, producing their wares on the ground floor of their homes, just below their living quarters, had a small desk for writing letters and paying bills. The very first home ‘office’ has evolved over time, but the simple principle of having a home zone to work has remained the same.
It’s possible that you have carved out a zone in your home to work, and you may even be one of the lucky ones that has a room or part of a room that you call an office. While having a home office feels like it’s almost a necessity nowadays, the truth is that it is also one of the first spaces in your home that easily becomes more and more cluttered, and soon it feels like you are working in a storage room. This is quite common because your office isn’t a place that everyone in your home is using like the kitchen or the living area, which makes it seem like it’s fair game to put the extra odds and ends to rest for a while until there is time to find a home for them.
Well people, it is time to call a stop to that. Clutter is incredibly mentally distracting. While you’re trying desperately to get on with your daily workload, the mess is increasing your stress and anxiety, and negatively impacting your ability to focus and most research will say your productivity. I’d like to challenge this word a bit though. Productivity makes you sound like a machine instead of a human. Let’s think about this being productive in a slightly different way. Whether you like your job or not, being able to tick things off your ‘to-do’ list is hugely satisfying so instead of saying that clutter decreases your productivity, think of it as stopping you from ticking those jobs off your daily list. And if clutter is holding you back from the satisfaction of completing things, what can you do about it?
1) Think of Your Office Entrance as a Threshold
Creating a space in your home to work is really important because your brain separates the meaning and function of this area from the rest of your home. It sets a boundary for your mind that says that your office is where works gets done so you become more mindful about what you are concentrating on when you are there. This prevents your thoughts from straying off task and keeps you thinking about what is in front of you. Not only that, but having a designated office promotes a better work-life balance. Once you have crossed the threshold between office and the rest of your home, your body senses that it is time to relax.
2) Set Up for Success
First, let’s think about how you will be using your office. It’s possible that the space you’re working in does need to function as more than one thing. Maybe things do need to be stored in that room, too, or someone else is sharing that space. If it’s possible, create some division between the different areas, and find ways to keep storage hidden in cupboards or behind screens. When you do start to declutter, there is an order in which to tackle the office. Start with clearing the floors, then surfaces, then shelves and finally cupboards and drawers. Remember to sort like with like, and anything that doesn’t belong in that space needs to be moved on. You’re looking to put things into piles of rubbish/shred/recycle and keep. (Note: paperwork is something that you need to tackle at another time. For now, just put it into piles of recycle or shred, file, or action.) Try and complete one area in the room before moving onto the next one. This way you will be able to see more progress.
3) Let’s Make It Work
There are lots of ways to make your office feel more comfortable and look nice so that you feel inspired to get more work done. Depending on your budget, you may want to paint the walls in colours that help reduce stress such as: pale greens, cloudy blues, light greys, and off whites. Make the best use of your wall space by using shelving, pinboards or whiteboards. Shelves are great for storage, but they can also be used for items that you love or photos. When adding things into your office space, it’s useful to ask yourself if it helps you in your work or if it makes you happy. If you know either of those to be true, then the item deserves a precious place in your office.
When it comes to organising your belongings, make sure that everything has a designated space. Store items that you use more often lower down and closer to you when you are working for easy access. Putting labels on files, drawers, etc can save you time whenever you are trying to find something or putting something away. Having a system for paperwork that includes a designated place paper that needs to be recycled or shredded, one for filing and one for actioning can save you the huge job in the future.
4) Your Brain Space
Now that you have decluttered and organised your office space, you can now reflect on how much it will mean to your brain and overall mental health to keep this area free from mess and clutter. This area in your home is going to be the one where your brain is most likely going to be working the hardest, so you want to treat it differently to the rest of your home. Guard it from becoming overwhelming. At the end of each working day, put on some of your favourite tunes and tidy things away ready for the tomorrow. Take note of the things that you are using day-to-day and move items around to make it work in the best possible way for you. Try and do an end-of-the-week check. Scan your office for any items that have crept in over the busy week that don’t belong there and make a point of moving them out of your office.
In the spirit of supporting your mental health, it’s time to take back your office space so that you have a designated area that creates a threshold between work and relaxing. Declutter the items that don’t need to be there or hide them away so that you can be the best at doing what you need to do. Spend some time setting up your office in ways that will be easy to keep it tidy and to find things when you need them. Lastly, remember to put some time into the end of your working day to reset your space ready for the next day. Just a few steps at a time will have your home office working for you while you are working.