Why you need to declutter your workspace immediately (and how to get started)

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Clutter. It's that thing that has become so normal we now have entire shows dedicated to eliminating it. But before you end up needing a serious intervention, heed this advice from Life Coach and Psychologist Dr. Jean Pollack, who took time to talk with us about how a cluttered workspace can not only kill creativity, but can also damage trust with clients, coworkers and even our personal relationships. She offers some sound advice on why we could all stand to be more organized, along with some quick tips for getting there.

3 big benefits of getting organized

1. It clears your mind and increases productivity

If you've ever felt less than productive in a cluttered workspace, you're not alone. That's because it's distracting. Being surrounded by a bunch of stuff not only slows you down, but it can also complicate your daily tasks.

Here's Jean:

My mind can't process when I look around and all of the flat areas are covered with things. When you have a cluttered office, it reflects your work to other people. When you have a decluttered environment, it creates more clarity and gives people the ability to trust you .

2. It builds trust

On that note, when clients and coworkers are distracted, confused or just generally grossed out by the environment you've created, you risk losing their trust.

Here's Jean:

I would have trouble trusting someone who has papers stacked up and things all over the place, and can't really get themselves organized. When I look at someone's ability to organize, it makes me feel more secure with their work; it gives me more confidence in them. If I'm going into an office and I see a mess (dirty things not put away, not organized or welcoming), I don't think I would go back to that person.

3. It boosts creativity

While it may be tempting to keep every single idea you've ever had at hand, there's a big difference between a small creative mess and full-on clutter.

Here's Jean:

To me, it's not creativity when you're in a cluttered mess, but this is how some people justify it. I don't see it that way. I think clutter reflects what's going on in your mind ... clutter inhibits creativity and productivity; it kind of invades your space and doesn't allow other people the ability to brainstorm, problem solve and process with you.

4 steps to getting (and staying) organized

1. Create a visual

Like any endeavor, you first need to know where you're headed. Before you start purging everything in sight, take a few minutes to map out a plan of how you want your space to look. Think about the items you use daily and make a firm decision to ditch things that are no longer useful (or perhaps never were).

Here's Jean:

You need a visual of where you want things. The first step is to sit down and talk about what you want to accomplish and where the distractions are coming in/what prevents you from reaching goals. Once you have a visual of what you want it to look like, you start purging and going through everything that you need or what you should get rid of. Remove everything from your desk, and start from the beginning. Use three containers; one for things you use everyday; another for things you use every two weeks/once a month; and another for things that aren't used at all. The third container -- just get rid of those things, organize for the things you use everyday, have a place for those.

2. Keep it minimal

Still not sure what should stay and what should've probably never been there in the first place? The rule of thumb here is to remember that it's your office, not your living room. While a few personal items are acceptable, it's important not to go overboard.

Here's Jean:

Some people like to have their personal things out to help ground them. A couple of things are fine, but to have them all over your office -- I don't think that's necessary. In order to be creative, you have to have your mind open, not cluttered, to new ideas.

3. Ditch your digital clutter

Think you're in good shape just because the physical space around you looks tidy? Think again. Clutter also extends to our digital lives, so be aware of all that junk you're not using on your laptop.

Here's Jean:

I think it affects us in the same mental way; it creates confusion. Maybe you can't find documents when you're in a meeting or a on a conference call. It can throw your time management off, along with your customer's trust. Organizing is important for yourself and for your presentation to others.

4. Develop a 10-minute routine

Once you're finally organized, it should take less time in the future to tidy up. Jean recommends giving your space a quick clean-up at least once per month (and more often if you're just getting started). These regular check-ins should keep you from falling back into any kind of clutter.

Here's Jean:

Once a month, put decluttering on your calendar, whether it's decluttering digital files or your workspace. It only takes 10 minutes to go through and declutter your desk. Be conscious of how it feels when you finish, usually you can feel yourself breathe a little better.

You can learn more about Jean at her Innovative Life Coaching site, where she offers phone, text and Skype relationship and creative living coaching sessions to people all over the world. 

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Stacy Warden

Stacy Warden is a contributing editor of the Pluralsight blog and has worked in publishing since the dawn of the iPhone. Currently, Stacy deals in tech and education--a combination that she finds absolutely fascinating. You can find her on Twitter @sterrsi.