The neuroscience behind tidying up

Unless you are a unique individual who thrives in the chaos of messy workstations and insurmountable piles of clutter, deep down you probably already know that you should have a clean and tidy desk. In our previous publication, we talked about tips for training your brain to do work. Here is a case for why you should organize your workspace today and keep it tidy.

Minimalism improves productivity

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Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

The appeal of minimalism has grown in recent times. The way we interact with the world around us has changed significantly in the last few decades with the rise of technology and social media platforms. We are constantly hounded by notifications, posts, pictures, and it can be so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of procrastination. Our brains absorb all these distractions and run with them leading to decreased productivity, anxiety, and other negative effects. I left most of the social media platforms for these very reasons, but the sensory input overload does not stop when you turn off extra screens.

I spend around 12–14 hours every day in front of my computer either working, studying, or developing side projects. There was a time when I had in front of me three notebooks, an array of charging cables, crumpled notes, vagabond pencils, and all the other nonsense that comes with a messy desk while I attempted to write papers on a computer screen that held 20 open tabs. Does that make you cringe? Good, it should.

Eliminating distractions will help your brain stay on task and reduce stress and anxiety levels. How? Well, decluttering will decrease your cognitive overload, freeing space in your brain for the things that matter most such as creativity and brainstorming. Think of your brain as a computer and each item by your desk as an open tab or program.

I am not a proponent of discarding your things, just of finding ways to neatly store them away in an organized system until you need them. Are you a student on a budget? Check out the Cubeical series on Amazon and spice them up with some storage cubes. This is a cheap and effective way to maximize space.

Exercise control over what you can

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Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

The concept behind keeping an organized workspace is the same behind making your bed every morning. We are living in a time when everything seems out of our control. Whether you are an undergraduate or a CEO, your life was likely turned upside down by the global pandemic. The vacations you had planned, the contracts you had signed, the schedules you had built all went out the window with the lockdown. We are all learning to cope with a new reality and a sense of aimlessness is only natural.

Think of your desk (and your life) as a plane you pilot. You may not be able to control the weather, the air traffic, or if you hit turbulence. But here is what you can do:

  • Check your settings: Enhance your workflow by minimizing the amount of exertion needed to achieve your goal. Do you have to get up to grab essential items every few minutes? Perhaps those items should be within reach.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel: Keep water, coffee, or tea nearby. Staying hydrated is key to keep your brain sparkling.
  • Designate emergency protocols: Oftentimes you will sit down to do something only to find that there is something else you need that is not within your control. Do you shift direction and head somewhere else? Or do you land? Deciding these things ahead of time will help your workflow immensely and help you avoid staring at your screen unsure of what to do next.
  • Prepare for takeoff: Each morning I spend a considerable amount of time preparing for what I want to do. Do I have all my materials? Are the devices I need already charged?

By controlling your immediate environment, you are helping your brain cope with external pressures over which you have no control.

The power of joyful environments

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Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

Would you rather work somewhere dull and uninviting or somewhere that inspires you and feeds your creativity? Making your desk a place that “sparks joy”, to quote Marie Kondo, will make it easier for you to come to it willfully. Take some time to carefully curate the item roster around you. You can start by clearing everything and then slowly adding the things that make you happiest.

Here are some ideas for making your desk an inviting place:

  • Keep a plant: Plants decrease stress and increase productivity. I keep a small orchid next to my computer screen and I have glanced at it at least 20 times while writing this post. Each time, I smile.
  • Minimize cables: Cables are sources of frustration on their own. They collect dust, get tangled, and increase the “open tabs” count. Think of going wireless for comfort. Right now, my desk has a single cable that I use to charge all my devices by rotating what is charging at any given time. I would like to thank Apple for having all their devices charged with the same port.
  • Appropriate lighting: This may seem like an obvious point, but I went a whole year without a desk lamp because I didn’t think I needed one until my father came to visit and tried to use my desk. I have been using the TaoTronics LED Desk Lamp since November 2019 and I can wholeheartedly say that my quality of life has increased. Furthermore, the different light tone settings help when I am trying to turn in for the day. Your eyes will thank you for it, buy a desk lamp!
  • Ergonomic comfort: If you are spending many hours in the same place, consider investing in a chair that will fit you. You should not have arm pain while typing or neck pain while reading at your desk. Make sure to adjust the space to your body and not the other way around.
  • Digitalize: This is a controversial topic and it comes down to preference but, for me, having an iPad with the apple pencil and GoodNotes5 or Notability is much more useful than an array of notebooks and highlighters.
  • Achievements and goals: Remind yourself of what you have accomplished and where you wish to go next to keep you motivated throughout the day by keeping significant tokens within your space.
  • Relaxing scents: Find scents you like and keep them around. Lighting a candle is part of my morning routine. I use that time to do my gratitude journaling as well. Anything with eucalyptus is usually very relaxing for me. Else, I use clean linen scents or my current favorite pink sands scent.

I love my desk: though it is often the place where frustrations arise, it is no longer the source of those frustrations.

Did you enjoy this article? Check out How I use Notion to organize my life and feel free to leave your thoughts below!


This post was originally published here!

Published by L. Leal

Productivity enthusiast, dog mom, and post-graduate student conquering the pitfalls of procrastination.

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