Feeling hemmed in or distracted by clutter? Surprise surprise: your intuition is backed up by science. A study by US university Princeton, for example, indicated that items in your visual field compete for your attention. The upshot is that tasks requiring focus take longer to complete, because your mind really is in a sense all over the place. A University of Minnesota study, meanwhile, found that people in orderly environments also tend to be more generous and make healthier decisions.
Alarmed? Don’t be. Adopt a few superbly simple habits and you’ll cut through the clutter with ease. Here are our top four tips.
1. Designate a space
Think inside the box and banish your clutter to its own personal Mordor. Dedicate a covered space like a drawer or closet to holding the bits and pieces you can’t deal with in the moment. The clutter’s still there, we know, but out of sight for you to deal with another time.
2. Schedule cleaning time
Block out a tiny slice of your day for decluttering. We’re talking seriously tiny – just 10 minutes a day can make a massive difference. The trick is to treat it like a time trial and see just how much you can neaten up in so short a period. You’d be surprised at how well this works.
3. Find the workflow
Develop a simple physical system to mirror your tasks. This can be as rudimentary as a couple of inbox–outbox trays. This doesn’t just help stop clutter from building in the first place; it also gives you some straightforward visual indicators to help you orient yourself at a glance when you’re wading knee-deep in work.
4. Get tech-savvy
Don’t forget your tech. Clutter on your computer’s desktop, for example, can add just as much to your cognitive load. Take a spare approach and keep only your mission-critical apps front and centre. If you absolutely can’t do without storing stuff on your desktop, try splitting the screen real estate up into easily digestible categories.
All that said, don’t sweat the mess too much. Shaming yourself is never productive – and besides, sometimes clutter can even be a good thing. Tasks that require out-of-the-box thinking can actually benefit from disorder, according to the University of Minnesota study cited at the beginning of this article. Indeed, some of the most creative geniuses in the history of humankind had catastrophically messy desks. That includes Albert Einstein, who is reputed to have said, ‘If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what then is an empty desk a sign?’
Read all about the new wave of stylish offices in HL September issue 2015!