Tips for cleaning up your workspace

A tidy desk helps you work smarter and reflects an organized mindset.
By Dawn Wotapka

Now that higher temperatures are replacing winter's chill, it is time for the annual ritual known as spring cleaning.

While this purging, scouring, and organizing is traditionally done at home, there are benefits to doing it at work as well.

"Being organized isn't just about having a home for everything or being neat, it also allows you to be more productive," said Ben Soreff, a founder of House to Home Organizing in Connecticut.

Increased production is good, but there's also a bigger picture to consider: "Your office appearance tells people information about you," said Eileen Roth, author of Organizing for Dummies. "If you have a mess, colleagues may think you can't handle any more or do a good job with a project." 

Feeling messy? Follow these steps to clean up your office act:

1. Get in the spirit. The first step is to set your mind properly, said Lily Cameron, a cleaning supervisor with London-based Fantastic Services. "Think of spring cleaning as a process of metaphorically throwing away the old year and making a room for the new one," said Cameron, who has more than a decade of experience. "Cleaning the workplace should be considered as clearing your mind and setting it ready to achieve new professional goals."

2. Start by grouping. Assess everything you keep at work. Divide this into stuff you want; things to trash, donate, or recycle; and things you're unsure about. You'll likely find yourself awash in mountains of paper. For that, "dump what you don't want, delegate what you can, and distribute the rest into your file system," Roth advised.

Be sure to label both folders and binders, she added. If you frequently use binders, consider ones that lock "so papers won't fall out, and use sheet protectors for documents you will use often," Roth said.

3. Clean every inch. With your stuff in piles, take the time to wipe down all surfaces, including electronics and the top of file cabinets, with a microfiber cloth and disinfecting cleaner, said Cameron. If the budget permits, hire a professional cleaner for the floors, she added. Use a can of compressed air on the keyboard and around other areas with crevices that catch crumbs.

Meanwhile, don't ignore water bottles and coffee cups, which can be breeding grounds for bacteria, said Natalie Wise, author of The Modern Organic Home: 100+ DIY Cleaning Products, Organization Tips, and Household Hacks. These things "see a lot of abuse day after day, often with only a quick rinse in the sink here and there," she pointed out. "That's just gross, especially if you add milk, cream, or sugar to your coffee."

4. Control clutter. As you select what to keep from the "undecided" pile and reassemble your office, aim to keep your work area free of clutter. "The only things that should be on your desktop are items you use daily," said Roth, who is based in Scottsdale, Ariz. "If you need a pencil or highlighter, take it out of the desk drawer when you need it instead of a pencil holder taking up space on your desktop."

She suggested hanging up professional certifications and a picture or two — avoid the urge to assemble a picture gallery — and keeping children's artwork to a minimum. Meanwhile, display trinkets and knickknacks at home.

"Have you ever seen a CEO with stuffed animals on his or her desk?" Roth asked. "They are too busy being professional and working."

5. Keep it up. Next, develop a system to keep things clean. Get into the habit of clearing your desk at the end of the day, which will prevent clutter and dirt from getting overwhelming. "This daily ritual of hitting reset will help you to avoid the paper pileup and keep your desk tidy so that when you get to work the next day, you are able to pick up where you left off," said Rachel Rosenthal, an organizing expert based in Washington, D.C.

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, JofA associate director, at

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