Sort your workspace

How does your workspace look? Is it tidy and neat, or a teetering pile of books and paperwork? Maybe you have more than one workspace, or work out of a rucksack? Perhaps everything you need lives on your phone? Has home or hybrid working brought more challenges – and more to keep in order?

However, and wherever, you work it’s useful to have a clear out; including if most of your work is currently happening online and/or from a home ‘office’.

But you may find this challenging, especially if you are someone that:

  • struggles with getting started with things
  • has ‘doom piles’ (things that should have a place, but don’t, so end up dumped where you’re endlessly reminded of and stressed by them)
  • hates clutter but really struggles to keep things organised
  • frequently forgets things
  • is required to work out of multiple spaces and remember what is where
  • is responsible for your own or other people’s materials, tools, equipment or general workspaces
  • lives with others who may also affect your work space and/or create mess
  • would love a cleaning routine but can’t seem to stick to one
  • is overloaded with so many tasks that cleaning feels like one more chore
  • feels shame, irritation or exhaustion (or all three and more); or are put under pressure from others because of the above

If you’ve had a particularly busy time last year, or if you feel things are on top of you, then you may want to take the next couple of days (or another time you set) to de-clutter and organise. You can make it more bearable by listening to music, or some of your favourite research podcasts. If you struggle to get started, using a guide or planner (see below) can help. As can having a friend or family member you trust to work alongside you (you can always return the favour). Remember, today’s task is about focusing on your workspace, it is not an instruction to clean your entire house in 24 hours. Keep the focus on your workspace and within that, narrow down specific tasks that need doing to help you feel more organised.

What might you try?
– sorting through your computer to ensure all your folders are up to date, with the right stuff in the right places, and any duplicates or no-longer-useful documents archived or deleted; with pending tasks clearly indicated. I admit this might take much longer than a couple of days and it’s okay to schedule this across the coming weeks as something you do for a short time each day until everything is more organised.
– If you have any work that needs filing (on or offline) you could sort this now, or make a note of what needs organising and manage that in the next few days/weeks. A checklist of what needs tidying that you can tick off brings order and can feel very satisfying.
– If you have a dedicated workspace, go through this identifying what needs recycling, shredding, recycling, or throwing away.
– If you mostly work out of a rucksack then empty your bag, throw away any rubbish, recycle old paperwork, and ensure it’s only got the essentials you need inside it (this might be worth doing if you’ve shifted online and last checked your bags several months ago!).
– Books, folders and files can be put back into their correct places (particularly if you have a home office and work has ‘spread’ all over the house). You might want to review if everything is where you need it (and make a note if you make any changes so this time next week you won’t be hunting around for essential information).
– For those working at home who don’t have a dedicated work space you may want to create an area where you can work comfortably, including noting your background, lighting and comfort if you’ll be based there for most of the day or evening.
– If you wear a uniform for work, or just have different outfits for different jobs you can go through your closet and work out what things are torn and need mending, what can go to the charity shop, and if there are any new items you need to buy or save for.
– If your office has a cleaner they’ll be able to work more effectively if you’ve tidied up. But you may still want to clean any equipment you use (computers, laptops etc) and wipe down, dust and hoover your workspace.

You may already follow a cleaning system, if so recommend who helps you keep on top of clutter in the comments, resources and guides (particularly those that are suited to those who’re chronically sick, disabled, or are parents/carers are especially welcome). If you want to share your before and after cleaning pics (so long as they don’t contain any research-identifying information) post on Threads using the hashtag #ResearcherRenew or share on LinkedIn. Remember there’s no obligation to do this, although some people do find taking photos of their workspaces or wider homes helpful when cleaned as an incentive to maintain this (or a reminder to do so again. A visual calendar, cleaning lists of what you need to do within each room, and alerts can all help those of us who go through cycles of clean then messy but struggle to maintain a manageable level of order.

Guides people have particularly recommended (and I’ve also tried) include:
Marie Kondo
Apartment Therapy by Maxwell Ryan (this also has a ‘January Cure’ that takes you on easy to follow daily tasks you might find achievable).
The Home Edit
Everything You Need To Completely Clean With ADHD by René Brooks
Tips for cleaning and de-cluttering with ADHD by Judith Kolberg
How to do laundry when you’re depressed by KC Davis

These guides are more about whole home management, but do have advice for specific areas (your workspace) and you may find their stepwise approaches helpful for other areas of your home if that remains a point of struggle for you.

If you found this difficult
If you’re overwhelmed at work or home with clutter you may not know how to sort it, and may also feel embarrassed or ashamed. Other people’s comments might have exacerbated this. As may seeing endless updates on social media of other people’s perfect homes or workspaces. This task may have reminded you that keeping things in order is either beyond you right now, for reasons that will pass but are currently outside of your control (in which case you can practice letting this go without blaming yourself). Or it might be a sign that you cannot do all the things.

As mentioned, if you have a friend or colleague that might help you this could be a good way to feel more in control at the start of the year. They can clean or tidy alongside you, be there for company, or take on additional jobs that help (e.g. bring a meal or take care of your children while you clean). Not everyone has the budget for a cleaner, but if you do this could be a bonus (and it’s possible to hire cleaners as a one-off job if you need assistance to get your home or work space feeling more liveable). If you are struggling with chronic illness, are a carer, disabled, or have executive functioning problems then one of your accommodations could be help with cleaning or tidying. Within your workplace, if you are being pressed to take on tasks that you’re unable to manage, Occupational Health or your union may be able to advise.

If you can build in time to get on top of your work it will pay off as you’ll know what needs doing, you’ll be able to throw out what isn’t needed (physically or metaphorically), and feel less anxious and guilty. Remember if this task is a big ask for you to build in reward times so you recognise what you’re managing. And also note that keeping your research and workspaces tidy and organised is part of a researcher’s job. It is still necessary work. That doesn’t mean you’re bad if you’re not managing this (among all the other things you’re required to do), it means that you should have support, time and resources to achieve this.

Next steps
Having tidied your workspace you might want to decorate it with flowers, photos, art work, certificates or positive images or messages. Looking back to the previous activity where you celebrated your achievements there may be some key moments from the past year you want to celebrate. Or perhaps introduce a space on your wall where you record each month what is going well or what you have to look forward to.

If you work from home have somewhere to relax, feel comfortable and enjoy your downtime is essential. It might be a separate room or the corner of your bedroom/office etc. Here you might keep books, an ornament or plant, a blanket, and a space to have a drink and snack. In many cases it is better to have somewhere you’re comfortable to retreat to and take things slowly and in sections rather than trying to do everything at once, making more of a mess, and feeling unhappy or unwell as a consequence.

Before you finish this task, grab your diary or planner and block out a half or full day per month where you can do a quick clean up – preventing a backlog of mess that overwhelms you. Some people find, having created a tidy workspace, they maintain this with a daily tidy up before they leave their workspace and a weekly check around to ensure everything is kept in order.

Remember this is NOT a task that can be done as quick one-off. Today’s activity is designed to get you thinking of how to live more comfortably without adding to your stress levels and you should pace yourself over time to schedule tidying and cleaning into your life as and when you feel able to do so.

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