Trouble Focusing at Work? Get Organized!

Trouble Focusing at Work? Get Organized!


  • Organizing your workspace is a simple way to reduce distractions and save time.
  • Your digital workspace – email inbox, computer desktop, and cloud storage – can be organized as well to save you time and worry.
  • When organized, your office space will feel like a clean slate, improving focus and creativity.
  • If organization does not come naturally, use some simple tips and take small steps. Even just organizing one thing, such as your desk or email inbox, will make you feel lighter and reduce stress.


Will an organized office really help me focus?

Yes! For two reasons. First, clutter is a big distraction, and research shows that it increases anxiety and decreases focus. Stacks of papers, unread emails, files not but back in the file cabinet, business cards stuffed in drawers…if you have ever walked into someone else’s cluttered workspace and wondered how they find anything, there’s a really good chance they struggle with focus and stress.

If I put a beautiful vase of flowers in the middle of an empty table, you can really appreciate the details of each bloom. If I put that same bouquet on a table filled with brochures, stacks of books, spreadsheets, cups filled with pens, a few folders…you get the idea. Getting rid of clutter helps you focus on what is most important.

The second reason organization helps you focus is it keeps you on task. If you have ever spent 5 minutes (or 30 minutes!) searching for something because you cannot remember where you put it or recreating a document because you cannot find it, then you know that these timewasters kill your creativity and increase stress. When you know where all your tools are, you can focus on building, creating, and problem-solving.


“But I’m just not an organized person!”

We all know people who make organization look easy, and we often think it is just in their DNA and that you either have it or you don’t. Organization is actually a skill, and like any skill, you can learn it.

People are not always consistent with their organization. Maybe you have a clean desk but hundreds of unread emails. Or perhaps your bookshelf is neatly arranged, but you have stacks of files and documents and have to wade through them every time you need something.

Again, creating and maintaining an organized workspace is a skill you can develop, so be encouraged that if it does not come naturally to you, you can still achieve a physical and digital office space that is free from clutter.


Ugh. Where do I start??

Start with your desk, or whatever area is the heart of your workspace. You need a clean workspace before you do anything else, and by decluttering the most important area in your workspace, you will immediately feel better.

The first thing to do is throw away the trash and get rid of anything that does not actually belong. Empty coffee cups, receipts you do not need, documents you are finished with, and anything else that can be thrown away or put in another room needs to go first.

It may sound silly, but throwing out trash and unnecessary items daily is a habit you should develop! Sometimes we just do not see our own mess, but if you make it a point to look everyday before you clock out or sign off for the evening, then you ensure you start the next day with a clean space.

Once you get rid of anything that does not belong, take a hard look at what is left and ask yourself if you absolutely need those items on your desk, or if they can be put in your desk, on a bookshelf, or in a cabinet. Remember, like the vase of flowers, you want to increase your ability to focus on the task at hand, and anything that does not need to be on your desk will be a distraction.

Most people really only need a framed photo or two, maybe a tray for papers or mail, and some pens. And if you find that you can put that stuff in your drawer and hang the photos on your wall, so much the better! The less you have on your desk surface, the better.


I guess this is where I go buy a bunch of bins, trays, and folders?

Not yet! Do not go buy a bunch of stuff until you first throw a bunch of stuff away! Some people organize their clutter without considering whether they even need it in the first place. After you have cleaned off your work area, move on to purging papers. Throw out those tax returns from 2005, the Christmas cards from 5 years ago, junk mail, documents you never need to reference again, and business cards for people you have no intention of calling. Be ruthless! Show no mercy. If you have not touched it for six months, you probably do not need it.

Once you have purged unnecessary papers, donated or sold books you do not need, and gotten rid of the 25 extra pens you have lying around, then you can see what organizational tools you actually need. It may look like you need 5 trays for papers or a new bookshelf, but once you purge, it may turn out that you have enough room in your desk drawers or file cabinet for everything that is really essential.

If you do get some trays and bins, group everything together by category. Categorizing things is an important aspect to organization. Tax records in one place, marketing materials in another place, contracts, receipts, separate folders for each client, etc. You know your business, so give it some thought. There are so many resources on how to organize things by specific categories so look up articles if you do not know where to start.


Your digital workspace – the clutter we do not see

This is a big one. Have you ever wondered how many unread emails and texts are sitting in people’s phones and personal computers right now? Must be billions. Clean up your emails just like you cleaned up your desk – start with a purge. Again, do the digital clean-up after your desk is tidy and your papers have been purged.

First, unsubscribe to any and every list you do not really need to be on. Second, do a word search in your inbox to delete things quickly. For example, if you get weekly emails for ABC Movie Theater and never read them, then search “ABC Movie Theater,” and when all those emails pop up, click delete all!

Second, create additional folders in your inbox. Create a folder for each client, for each child, for family, social activities, trips and events, financial services, and any other specific categories that will help you quickly organize your inbox.

If you are a person with hundreds of unread emails, you may not do this all in one sitting. Pick one goal, such as setting up an email folder for Amazon orders and start there.


Keep it going until you finish!

It does not matter if it takes you a day, a week, or a month, do not stop until the job is done. Set small, manageable goals and you will build momentum. Maybe today you can start with the surface of your desk. Tomorrow, you can do the big paper purge. That purge may take a couple of days. Just stick with it, stay focused on one goal at a time, and take breaks when you get overwhelmed.

Here are a few important tips to keep you focused:

  • Work on one thing at a time. If you start with your desk, keep going until you finish that area before you start on your file cabinet. DO NOT dump everything out at once. Do one area at a time because you still have to do your actual job during all of this!
  • Once you get an area organized, then go buy things that will help you keep it that way. Maybe you need a tray with different compartments in your top drawer for your pens, highlighters, paperclips, etc. First, purge the drawer, then go buy the tray to organize it. If you buy the trays, bins, and shelves first, you will not throw as much stuff away, you’ll just keep it.
  • If a task is really big, break it up into chunks and ask for help. If your bookshelves are overwhelming or your financial records are just too much for you to sort through, then enlist a spouse, friend, or co-worker to help you go through it. Sometimes it helps to have another set of eyes look at your mess and question whether or not you really need to keep something.
  • Remember, it is easier to maintain a cleaned space if you will devote some time each day to tidying up. Never leave your workspace for the day without throwing out trash, putting coffee cups in the sink, purging unnecessary papers, and deleting emails. If you do that for yourself at the end of each day, you will make starting your next workday less stressful.


Remember why you are doing this

When the whole idea of organizing your workspace gets overwhelming, remember why you started. The goal is to give you a cleaner, more efficient space so that you can increase your focus on your work, reduce stress by getting rid of clutter, and save yourself time and anxiety because you know where everything is.

Life has enough distractions – we do not need to add to it with a cluttered workspace. Cleaning out your email inbox, organizing your desk drawers, and giving yourself an open, welcoming space to work in will help you not only work more efficiently, but feel better doing it.

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