Monday, March 11, 2019

Can a Clean Desk Create Inner Happiness?

I've known people in my life who are so into cleanliness and order that you could eat off their garage floor, surrounded by gardening tools that stand at attention like little soldiers. I've also known people whose surrounding environment -- whether at home or at work -- that I wouldn't touch without wearing a hazmat suit and knowing avalanche procedures in case a mountain of junk fell on my head.

Gretchen Rubin, who I have interviewed many times about happiness in the workplace, has a new book, "Outer Order, Inner Calm." In it, she writes how an orderly, peaceful environment will lead to inner peace and happiness. Need to write a tough email? Rubin says it will be much easier with a neat desk.

Rubin's research into happiness has shown that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to organization, but rather using some strategies to reach out own personal state of inner calm. (I don't need an immaculate garage to feel calm, thank you very much.)

Here are some of her ideas:

  • Never label anything "miscallaneous." "I once created a file called 'active useful documents' and then never looked in it again," Rubin writes. Also, Rubin says you can't use a term that's a synonym for "miscellaneous."
  • Do you need more than one? You probably don't really need two tape dispensers, two pairs of scissors and three pen cups on your desk.
  • Cut out doodads. I once knew an editor who had a desk full of snow globes. Every time someone went on a vacation, they brought him a snow globe from their destination. I once counted 40 snow globes before I gave up. You really only need a couple of meaningful mementos at work, and keep them small, Rubin says.
  • Allow technology to clear clutter. You probably don't need a dictionary, thesaurus, maps or a fax machine if you can do that work online. Get rid of them.
  • Protect your desk. A desk is what Rubin refers to as "extremely valuable real estate." She advises being very selective about what's on its surface, as well as any shelves, drawers or cabinets that are within easy reach. "Unless you're consulting a book every day, don't leave it on your desk. If you have three boxes of your favorite brand of pen, don't store them in your top drawer."
  • Beware of conference swag and freebies. "The best way to deal with clutter is never to accept these freebies in the first place. Something free can end up costing a lot of time, energy and space," she says.
  • Don't own it. It can be very stressful to look at a messy desk and say "I need to get organized!" Instead, your first instinct should be to get rid of stuff. "If you don't own it, you don't have to organize it," she says.

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