Is Your Desk a Barometer for Your Headspace?

Like many other businesses, we at Atomic Object just recently passed the one-year mark of working from home. All things considered, our business has fared well the last 12 months, but it wasn’t without challenges. The team had grown used to working from the office every day. Full-time remote work meant we all had to adjust to different work environments, form new routines, and for some of us, develop new mechanisms for coping with stress.

The last year has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. I’ve gone through periods of feeling really energized, productive, and proud of my work. But, I’ve also gone through stretches where I felt stressed and had trouble focusing.

Recently, I discovered a correlation between my working environment and my personal stress level. Allow me to explain.

An Overloaded Desk Space

About a month ago I was feeling completely overloaded. My to-do list was a mess, and the list of emails awaiting responses was getting uncomfortably long. And, each day, more things were added to my plate.

At the same time, my home office was growing increasingly cluttered and disorganized. I had a whiteboard on my wall full of random notes and reminders. Sticky notes and miscellaneous papers were scattered all over my desk. In addition, a collection of coffee mugs, water glasses, and La Croix cans was taking up more desk real estate than I care to admit. The only thing that saved me was the fact that you can’t see my desk through a Zoom call!

Finally, I had a day with almost nothing on my calendar. I thought, “This is exactly what I need to get caught up.” Well, my meeting-less day came and went, and afterward, I really didn’t feel much better. I couldn’t focus, I was interrupted a lot, and I checked very little off of my to-do list. I ended that day feeling pretty discouraged.

An Overloaded Headspace

The next morning I sat down at my desk and looked around the room at the giant mess that I had been working in. It was then that I came to a stunning realization. The state of my workspace resembled the way I was feeling inside — cluttered and disorganized. In almost every direction I looked, I saw visual noise. It was immensely distracting, and I believe it was causing stress in a way I hadn’t even been aware of.

I realized what I had to do. Before I even cracked open my email inbox, I got to work cleaning up my messy workspace.

I took every sticky note and piece of paper off of my desk and put them someplace out of sight. Next, I digitized the notes that were on my whiteboard and erased the entire thing. I closed the ridiculous number of browser tabs that I had open on my computer. And, finally, I got rid of all the unnecessary drink containers littering my desk — except for my morning coffee, of course.

Even though I had a fairly full calendar, that day was one of the most productive I’d had in weeks. I found that I was better able to focus on my work and think more clearly than before. A clean office was exactly what I’d needed. I still had a lot of work to do, but I was in a much better state, mentally, to do it.

The Benefits of Unloading

All this leads me to the conclusion that the state of my workspace can be a real-world barometer showing the state of my mental wellbeing. More than that, I found I could improve one by improving the other.

Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you that my desk has been perfectly spotless ever since that day. I still like using sticky notes and my whiteboard. And, yes, my workspace does still get cluttered from time to time. But, having now recognized how much of an impact a messy workspace can have on me, I am more careful to not let it get out of hand.

  • David Rathbone says:

    I also work on several projects at a time both hardware and software.
    My home workspace has lots of test equipment and client projects.
    The workload does not stop enough to get the decks clear.
    When I do, I feel like I can take it all on again and my mind becomes clear.

    I read your blog as I needed a ‘Neopixel’ bit of code for the ESP32.
    Your code on GIT was “uncluttered” and simple. So many thanks for your clean desk policy!

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