By Leo Babauta
Quick note: For the next few weeks, these posts will be a series called “Edit Your Life,” looking at ways to simplify different parts of your life.
I’m a former newspaper editor, and one of the things I learned was to edit brutally (no sarcastic comments about why I don’t do that with my blog posts). Cut out everything that’s not necessary, and you’ve got a more meaningful story.
I highly recommend editing your life.
Today’s edit: Edit your work space.
If you’re at work, look around you — how many things are on your desk? How many things are up on the walls around you? How cluttered is your computer desktop? Are there piles of things around your desk?
All of these things are visual distractions, and as we are visual creatures, our minds do not let us ignore them. They pull for our attention, and stress us out.
The solution: simplify, edit, minimize.
In my workspace, I have a pretty minimal and clean setup. When I moved in, I stripped everything from the walls but a single, pretty calendar. I have one inbox, that’s usually empty (see: Steps to a Permanently Clear Desk), two photos of my family, a phone, a printer and a computer. Otherwise, my desktop is clear of everything but the document I’m working on at this moment. My computer has no desktop icons, and I try to have only one program open at a time (unless more than one is absolutely necessary).
It’s a clutter-free, distraction-free, stress-free and productive work space, and I highly recommend it to everyone. Your space could have a few personal items, to make it yours, but for the most part, you want to be able to focus on the task at hand, otherwise your work day will be more stressful than necessary.
A quick note about productivity: I should write another post about this, but when I write about productivity, it isn’t because I think we need to be working machines. In fact, if you’ve read any of my posts about slowing down and simplicity, you know I believe the opposite. Instead, productivity is important, to me, because if we can get our work done in a shorter amount of time, we have more time for ourselves, our families, and our goals.
Let’s edit our work spaces and create a simplified environment:
- Edit your walls. Look at all the stuff on the walls around you. What really needs to be there? Chances are, none of it. We put stuff up on the walls to remind ourselves of things, to inspire ourselves, to make ourselves laugh. But it just distracts us. Take it all down, except perhaps for a nice picture (art is good if you have any), and maybe a nice calendar. If you have a sign to remind you to do a goal or habit, leave that up. I have a little sign taped to my computer that says, “DO IT NOW” in big blue letters. It’s a distraction, sure, but one that distracts me from my other distractions.
- Gather up all your papers. Do you have papers all over your desk? How about stacked on your floor? Gather these all up into one pile, and process them one at a time. This may take awhile if you have a lot of papers, but trust me, it’s time well spent. Most of these papers can be trashed, but the important ones need to be filed, with important dates entered in your calendar and actions in your to-do list. File the papers right away. Feel free to toss without mercy, or forward to the appropriate party. Work your way down the stack, starting from the first document. Take one document at a time, make a decision about how to dispose of it, and do it quickly. Don’t put it back to decide on later. Don’t make several stacks. Do them one at a time, right away.
- Edit your knicknacks. Do you have a bunch of little things on your desk? Photos, cute little animals, candy trays, stuff for pens and paper clips, little signs with funny sayings on them. Get rid of all of them but maybe one or two photos. Pens and paper clips and the like can be put in a desk drawer, neatly in a drawer tray. Most of the other stuff can be tossed, or filed appropriately. This stuff is pure distraction.
- Find other spaces for things. If there are things within sight that you need, find a place out of sight for them. Really, there’s nothing that needs to be on your desktop (besides an inbox and your electronic equipment like phone and monitor). Everything else can be put in a drawer. The key: find a place for things, and always put them there. That way, they will be easy to find when you need them. Put the things you use most in the drawers closest to you.
- Edit your computer. Most people have a desktop cluttered with icons. This is distracting, and it’s hard to find stuff. In my My Documents folder, I created five folders: 1. Inbox 2. Actions 3. Incubate 4. Current Projects and 5. Archive. I download everything to 1. Inbox, and try to clear it out at least daily. I work mostly in the 2. Actions folder. Stuff I need to think about or read later goes in 3. Incubate. The other two are self-explanatory. So take everything on your desktop and file it. If there are actions that you need to do, put them in Actions. If there are programs or files you need to access regularly, you can put them in your Start menu (or equivalent), or even better, develop an Autohotkey for it. Then turn off your desktop icons, and get a nice serene desktop pic (I have a Zen garden pic). Another tip: don’t have a bunch of programs open at once. Work on one task at a time, and only have the window(s) open that you need to work on that task.
- Edit your drawers. Go through drawers one at a time, tossing junk and only keeping what’s needed. Organize it, have a place for everything, and make sure you always put stuff back in its place.
- Edit your filing system. Do you file your documents regularly? Can you find it immediately at any time? If so, you’re ahead of the game. If not, create a handy reference filing system. Do it simple, from A-Z with simple manila folders. Make sure to have a box of folders and labels on hand so you can make a new file immediately, whenever you need it. Don’t have a “To File” pile — just file stuff right away! Your filing drawer(s) should be close at hand so there’s no reason not to file something immediately or pull the file if you need it.
- Don’t go and buy a bunch of stuff. When people start GTD, they go out and buy a Brother labelmaker. If you want to do that, and get some labels and manila folders, that’s fine. But otherwise, don’t go on an office-supply rampage just to simplify your work space. Remember, we’re editing here, not doing a home makeover!
If you do all of the above, you should have a pretty nice and simplified work space now. If you can’t do it all at once, that’s fine — schedule one-hour chunks over the next 2-3 days and you should be done. When you’re done, sit back, look around, and enjoy! It should be immensely pleasing. Now keep it that way!