Make time for organizing work

“Organizing my office is a low priority, I have more important things to do with my time.”

“I don’t have time to organize my office.”

“I just have too much to do to stop and organize my office.”

I bet you’ve heard or said something similar to these statements at least once — maybe more. I know that there have been times in my life when these phrases came across my lips.

Reality may be, however, that the process of organizing your office can actually improve your productivity and also make you a more creative worker (not the results, which also can be beneficial, but simply the process). A few years ago, researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that alternating between mindful work (work that requires intense thought and focus) and mindless work (routine activities that require very little processing power) enhances your efficiency and creativity. Their findings were discussed in the article “Enhancing Creativity Through ‘Mindless’ Work” in the July-August 2006 issue of the journal Organization Science.

The text of the study specifically named organizing processes that count as mindless work:

… performing simple manufacturing line tasks (e.g., filling supply bins), making photocopies, simple cleaning chores (e.g., cleaning laboratory equipment), performing simple maintenance tasks, sorting or collating tasks, and simple service tasks (e.g., unpacking and stocking supplies).

The research concludes:

Such mindless tasks, introduced into otherwise chronically overenriched work, may provide critical opportunities for reflection and reinvigoration.

Changing your focus to simple organizing tasks gives your brain time to mull over more taxing ideas in a relaxed state and gives you energy to propel you to your next round of difficult work.

As you set up your workday tomorrow, try alternating mindful tasks and mindless tasks and see if it improves your overall productivity and creativity. When you get to the points in your schedule when you’re ready for mindless tasks, file or sort through papers, refill your office supplies, and dust off your monitor. Taking the time to organize will give your mind the opportunity to reflect and re-energize, so that you can be a better worker.

20 Comments for “Make time for organizing work”

  1. posted by jan on

    Good post. I make a point of cleaning and straightening my sewing room (my office, I’m a doll maker) at least once a week. at first I was reluctant but now I look forward to it. It helps in two ways. I slow down and my mind rests and because I do it regularly I allow myself to be creatively messy when I am working!

  2. posted by Tony on

    Perfect timing. I had planned on attacking my desk today since I have finished month-end close procedures. The paper shredder and I need to become reacquainted.

  3. posted by Another Deb on

    In a former life I was a technician for a microchip company, with everone wearing the white “bunny suit” of the dust-free environment, moving so slowly and carefully as to be in some kind of tai chi zone. My hours were spent rotating the silicon discs between machines, into and out of carriers, alone with only my thoughts in the low din of the fans and motors involved with the facility.

    Oh my gosh, how my mind flew! Thoughts totally sparkled, contrasting between the clean-room environment and the brain as much as Kansas and Dorothy’s Oz. I couldn’t write any of it down, due to the ban on paper (it creates lint) but some of it made it back home and became journal entries, poetry and job application essays.

    The closest I can come to that clarity now is during routine exercise, which I imagine may be due to increased blood flow to the brain as well as the mundane nature of the routine. Other tasks that seem to help unstick my thoughts are stapling a pile of papers together and scrubbing the tops of lab tables. (“Wax on, Wax off”)

  4. posted by Cat on

    this fits in well with a NYTimes article ( – saying that we appreciate our main activity more if we intersperse breaks.

    Although I usually don’t take a break mid-project (hate breaking up the rhythm), I do take a reorganizing break before starting something else. I’m sure this carried over from childhood – whenever I wanted to play with a different thing, I always had to clean up from the other activity first!

  5. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I always find if my work area is cluttered, it gets me flustered. Keeping a neat desk is key for a well-thought out and productive work day. Great article!

  6. posted by Chris on

    I agree with the thoughts here—I love a clean office and workspace.

    Having said that, there is a danger here as well. When you have a to-do list filled with stressful or onerous tasks, sometimes it’s easier to waste time by constantly cleaning and tidying your desk/office.

  7. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    Taking a short break to do some brainless task when I get stuck on a bigger project almost always helps clear the stuckness. And it gets the day-to-day straightening and cleaning done.

  8. posted by ruthg on

    I’m intrigued at the thought that filing, tidying etc might be thought of as mindless and therefore less stressful tasks. I find the attempt to file deeply stressful, and the process of tidying my – functioning but to other people apparently untidy – desk, far from being mindless, is one of the most mindful parts of my day; it requires my full attention and certainly does not leave me feeling refreshed and energised. Satisfied, yes. Peaceful and ready to tackle something new, no. I need to go and do something else after tackling those tasks before I can go onto to the other duties of my day. I love discovering how other people are different!!

  9. posted by Trish on

    I hate filing, but my home office is a mess and it really bugs me, so I’m setting aside Sat morning for this task. I find filing about midway between mindless and thought required-especially when I’m way behind. All my energy goes towards my classroom and church organizing, little left over for home!

  10. posted by [email protected] on

    I had been in the past working at decluttering and organizing at least an hour or two a day. With the addition of show chickens (long story) my life is far too hectic to organize. I feel slow, lagging behind. I know for a fact I am better off organizing an hour a day or more. Glad to know I was right when I figured that out this morning! I will find the time somehow, my brain needs it!

  11. posted by Tabitha (From Single to Married) on

    Good reminder and so very true.

  12. posted by SavvyChristine on

    I work better with an organized desk. It took me a long time to realize that. It’s nice that we keep reminding each other of these little things — and, of course, spread the word to people who haven’t figured it out yet.

  13. posted by Ginger on

    Ahh, this is so true.

    Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed and overworked I try to step back and organize the pit that is my desk, or I get up and load the office dishwasher or something.

    The break is a great way to calm down and help you focus!

  14. posted by marcelebrate on

    I know plenty of people who smoke that swear their regular smoke breaks make them more productive. While not directly in the vain of “decluttering,” this does reinforce the idea that taking a break gives your otherwise idle mind time to reflect.

    Too bad they don’t make candy cigarettes in the States anymore!

  15. posted by Erin Doland on

    @marcelebrate — They still sell candy cigarettes.

  16. posted by Catherine Cantieri, Sorted on

    Love this post! I’ll definitely mention this concept to encourage clients to do the “tedious” work of re-filing or organizing. Great work!

  17. posted by Vi | Maximizing Utility on

    Great post! I love it! Thanks for sharing.

  18. posted by Enrique S @ The Corporate Barbarian on

    I make it a point to tidy up my office before I leave for the day. It only takes about ten minutes, and it’s a good habit to get into. This also includes going through my email and checking my calendar for the next day. It helps me get rolling when I come in the next day.

  19. posted by Viv on

    This info is spot on. I just started a new job as a school librarian and inherited a library that was a disaster from a workflow standpoint. The previous person was in the job for 18 months and although she kept up with the basics, she never did anything to reorganize and make her life simpler. Every horizontal surface in the workroom area was covered to about 18 inches with stuff, there were dozens of new books hidden in cabinets, no organization of basic supplies, and I found money tucked away all over the place. The school secretary took charge of the money for me, and there was $166 that had been hidden in file folders.

    I decided to not worry about doing anything for the first week other than clean the place out. Kids could exchange their books, but I did very little else. That was hard, because it looked like I wasn’t doing my job, and you always want to make a good impression in a new place. And if you are ever in this situation at work, the janitor is your friend! He hauled a ton of stuff away for me.

    I found rolls of expensive library binding tape that was so old and brittle it had to be tossed,and duplicates and triplicates of some very expensive supplies and tools. As I dug down through the paperwork, I found stuff from her predecessor, so the piles were inherited. I would say that at least $500 had been wasted due to unused supplies that were no longer good and in buying things she already owned.

    Now it’s all easy to maintain, I have kits ready for various chores, and although there is a big backlog of work to do, it seems like it’s possible now that I know the extent of it.

    I always have a few quick things I can do to make things easier if I need a change of pace. One is to have wipes available to do a quick clean of counters and computer keyboards. That takes about 5 minutes but leaves the place smelling clean. Another is to grab my “on the go” file, head down to the school office, and do the copying and faxing required to get it out of the way.

    (and yes, I AM the person who posted about how she downsized from a 6000 sq ft house and moved cross-country. Decluttering is a skill that can be learned, and I’ve really been exercising my “toss” arms)

  20. posted by Jill on

    That’s very interesting!

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