Increase Productivity / Self-Care

How to declutter your space –and your mind to increase your productivity

. 10 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
How to declutter your space –and your mind to increase your productivity

We live in a world with too much content. Period. In a world where brands are constantly competing for our 2-second attention span via ceaseless auctions for tiny spaces in our minds, how do we make space for ourselves?

How to declutter your workspace

Let’s start with a physical decluttering first. Several researches have shown why and how decluttering your physical space translates into an enhanced productivity.

But just to reiterate the need for decluttering before we actually dive into the ‘how’ of decluttering, here’s why decluttering is important.

  1. It facilitates clearer focus and initiates efficiency
  2. It helps you optimise time by aiding attention only where necessary
  3. Thereby maximising energy to be able to do things that matter at hand

So here’s how you can declutter and organise your workspace – all of which will eventually lead to decluttering your thought process.

decluttering to increase productivity

Declutter your desk

The initial step to decluttering your mind is by decluttering your space.

We see a plethora of #motivationalquotes on a daily basis. And we’re so organically attuned to starting our workdays on a ‘positive vibes only’ note that we fool ourselves into believing that this can actually boost our productivity. The result? An office desk amped up with inspirational quotes and various forms of ‘you-go-girl’ disseminations.

Now, I’m not denying the power of waking up or starting your work on an inspired note, but too much of anything leads to counter-productivity. One of the most common mistakes that people make in their quest of birthing productivity is precisely on these lines.

They stock up their workspace with way too many posters or quotes that urge and implore them to be productive. The end result is more about wondering how to be productive than actually being productive. So here’s a start.

A trial declutter run for a week

Now I don’t personally vouch for Marie Kondo’s theory on throwing things that “don’t spark joy” away, but here’s a version of it that I have particularly found useful.

Throw things that “don’t spark usefulness” away instead.

So all those massive frames and quotes cluttering your desk that scream #positivevibesonly? They don’t particularly have a utility. All they do is create a utopia that leads you into believing a faux-reality in which things are meant to be ‘perfect’.

But what is ‘perfect’? I have safely concluded, for my personal growth and experience, that perfection does not exist. But what does exist is the need to function – the need to work, get on with your life and show up for work everyday.

decluttering to increase productivity

So here’s what I suggest for your workplace desk.

Organise it in a way that only the essentials are present in your line of vision – for a trial week. Only keep the things that you know you need more than once in a day. Your laptop (duh!), a notebook, a pen, your bottle of water (it’s important to stay hydrated ladies!) and maybe one – or two other things which you need daily. Remember, these are things that you must need more than once in your workday.

Shove everything else that you don’t need on a daily basis out of your sight. May be in a drawer or in a cupboard that you don’t find the need to open everyday. Try this empty-desk trial out for a week. And by the end if you haven’t missed or touched those items in a week – you have your answer.

Chaos may breed creativity but organisation is a surer path to productivity.

Some other things to keep in mind when decluttering your desk –

  1. We’re way too wired – laptop cable, office charging cable, Bluetooth cable, etc. Too. Many. Wires. Shove them all under your desk. Use a cord organiser if you have to.
  2. Keep items of sentimental value to a bare minimum – photo frames, quote frames, other decorations, etc. They’re an unrecognised distraction. Imagine having a picture of your really cute baby on your desk. Don’t your thoughts keep fluttering to how cute your baby really is?
  3. If your work involves a lot of paperwork, ensure that you get rid of papers you no longer need in a timely manner. Piling paperwork can be a major buzz kill to your productivity.
decluttering to increase productivity

Declutter your laptop/PC

Technological advancement is reigning supreme. We’re tied to our devices and we’re thriving in a myriad of digital clutter. I’ll get to the effects of digital clutter on the mind in a bit, but here’s what’s more pressing.

The digital clutter that feeds off of our productivity – and our laptop batteries. We have so much digital clutter in our lives, from our inbox bustling with unread and spam mails to our desktops where random unopened files can live on, unnoticed for the longest time. Organising through this clutter is essential not only for security purposes but also for your productivity.

Think about it, when was the last time you skipped through an important email because of the gazillion other unread or unopened ones. Or that time when you missed an important WhatsApp message in the sea of unopened good morning forwards.

So here’s how decluttering your main work device can look like -

Organise those mails: As painful as it might seem, it’s important to get to those endless notifications at some point or the other. Thankfully the Gmail App is a good friend and it senses our needs. You can create separate folders and labels for your work mails and your personal ones.

decluttering to increase productivity

Unsubscribe: After a period of over a week generally, Gmail questions the relevance of the mails you haven’t bothered opening. Now as tempting as those newsletters or fancy articles that you saved to ‘read later’ may seem, let’s be honest. You will not read them later. Unsubscribe. Leave space for important mails to be visible.

Keep a notes’ draft handy: Out of the many job responsibilities, one of my primary ones is to write long form articles. So I basically have a lot of random ideas to write about. And in the fear of losing out those thoughts, I put them down on any word document that presents itself before me. I have lost count of the ideas that have disappeared due to the sheer brilliance of this process. But I have found a solution to this. An email draft!

Now, as much as we’d all love to have fancy notebooks and pens handy, let’s face it –this stationery aspiration does not always translate to reality.

So here’s what I do – have an email draft handy instead. Gmail is a pro when it comes to saving your drafts/unsent emails and it’s a good replacement for unsaved word documents as well. You might misplace your word document but you’ll never miss a Gmail draft.

Folders: And labels. Organise your device by deleting old files or moving them off your desktop and on to an external hard drive or storage system. If you’re a MacBook user, Apple has the option of labelling and colour coding your folders. Use this labelling system to organise files and folders in the degree of their importance on your device. Also, make this a regular practice. The nature of clutter is indefinite. This sorting out process must be intermittently returned to.

decluttering to increase productivity

Doing all this might seem more organisational –and by extension, boring and superfluous in nature. But this is directly related to clearing out your thought process. With the burgeoning technology and numerous devices we’re attached to, this un-organisation is a direct yet unrecognised impediment to our productivity.

Unopened mails, unsorted folders, random word documents and more can be truly demanding. They sap out our energy and prevail on our minds like a ticking time bomb waiting to implode. Since these advancements are here to stay, we might as well use them to enhance our organisation. And all of this contributes to a much bigger concept – decluttering your mind.

How to declutter your mind

When you have accomplished extracting productivity out of your physical space, the next step is to imply this productivity into your actual thought process. But there’s a much bigger evil that is impeding our functionality – our devices.

I know I’ve said this already but I cannot stress this enough –we are too wired down by the digital clutter surrounding us. Every individual, roughly, is in possession of at least two devices at all times. And what’s worse, these devices have become indispensable for our work.

I, for instance, (for all the digital clutter I have been rambling on about) have a major part of my work on my phone. As a content creator, Instagram is a major platform for both – exalting my creative juices and my work; while also being the source of the constant ticking in my head.

I cannot help but check Instagram every other minute for the increasing likes, engagement, comments, responses, etc. Now I could have endless excuses about how it’s practically my work and I cannot do without it – I do seem to have figured out a way that helps me ground my thoughts.

Here’s a list of what worked for me when I decided to declutter my mind.

Create a routine for yourself

As clichéd as this sounds, I cannot stress this enough. Speaking from personal experience, I have felt various anxiety attacks throughout my professional life – at varying degrees of intensity simply because I felt incredibly overwhelmed with the amount of workload.

As a young professional working in a cross-functionally operating startup, I have had the opportunity to dabble in various fields of work. The learning and your eventual growth is surely fun but it’s bound to take a toll on your mental health. Which is why it’s important to ground yourself by creating a routine.

I have personally found this incredibly helpful. I start my workday by writing everything that I need to get done today. And then I arrange those tasks in the order of their urgency and priority.

Doing this not only clears your actual schedule but it also aids you to think and organise your thoughts accordingly. Which brings me to my next decluttering essential.

Write. Everything. Down.

All your tasks. All your ideas for the day. Everything you’re supposed to get done. Everything of importance. It doesn’t actually have to be on paper. Remember the notes’ draft idea? That’s a good place to write everything down too.

Writing is a great tool to clear your mind. That whirlpool of thoughts and ideas in your head can simply take a much more organised clearer shape when put down on paper – especially with your daily tasks. When you’ve planned what all you need to get done and know when you need to get done – there’s practically no room left for anxiety anymore.

Writing pointers, plans and tasks has personally helped me tremendously increase my productivity at work. 10/10 recommend.

Monitor your screen time – and your content intake

Remember my Instagram ramble a couple paragraphs earlier? So the solution I found was simply regulating and organising the day into two time periods – one that was dedicated for everything phone-related and social media; and the other that was not.

For instance, as part of my work, I have figured out the actual times I am supposed to be posting stuff on social media through the day. They’re usually around 10am, 5pm and 9pm. So I make it a point to open the app on my phone only during those times in the day. Take maybe a half hour before all of those times.

And since this isn’t particularly foolproof on certain days, I ensure that I’ll indulge myself in no screen time during my commute to and from work – which is roughly 35-40 minutes each way.

Be it work mails, WhatsApp, texts from friends, I ensure that the only time I expose my eyes during the commute is to change the song. Music is a major source of this decluttering. I have set that hour and a half aside for just my music and my thoughts – given that a majority of those thoughts are work and ideas related, it just all contributes to me planning my day better.

Similarly, find your time during the day when you can do away with screen time altogether. This will also help limit the content you expose yourself to.

Try single-tasking

Gone are the days when multitasking was the measure of productivity. Let’s try this new thing called single tasking.

Remember that time prioritising that we thought of doing for all your tasks for the day? Take one task at a time. Focus on the one at hand and then move on to the next. Trust me, it’ll make all those done tick marks come next to your tasks a whole lot quicker.

For instance, when I am writing, I choose to sit solitary, ignore all notifications and get done with major chunks of the piece in those solitary sessions. This is also another motivation for you to organise your tasks according to their urgency. You’ll know which one needs your maximum focus and when too.

But having said, we do indeed live in a world with too much content. We complain about eyes drying out as we’re scrolling Instagram. We gossip about our exes while keeping track of their Facebook check-ins. And we seek guilty pleasure out of browsing twitter threads in the office as we complain of not getting any work done.