dark brown desk with piles of books, notebooks, dual monitor; green walls with many postcards and other art framed hanging on walls

desk cleaning routine

When I’m in the middle of a work project, my desk is the definition of chaos. Papers are stacked in a system that makes sense only to me (sometimes). Pens and index cards are strewn everywhere. Depending on the project, there may even be yarn and related materials everywhere. Notebooks exist in precarious piles.

Why do I take time to tidy every evening and make a complete tidy a regular occurrence in my schedule?

dark brown desk with piles of books, notebooks, dual monitor; green walls with many postcards and other art framed hanging on walls

Here are my three primary reasons taking care of this daily:

  • Tidying my desk is a form of review.
  • A clean space helps me focus.
  • The ritual helps differentiate the work day from the rest of my day.

Tidy to review.

For each item in the pile of stuff I evaluate if it’s still immediately relevant, should be archived, or removed. If you need a guide to learn how to process the stuff this flowchart (pdf) from David Allen & Co is a good starting point.

Clean and focus

With stuff now categorized and my lists updated, it’s now possible to prioritize work. I know where my things are so my brain can focus instead of worrying where something is amid all the stuff.

Segment my day

My primary work space is in my house. That means my work is never very far away. Cleaning up my space can act as a pseudo commute-type break that helps me differentiate between work and home. The time I take has become a ritual and helps me to keep work and personal life separate.


The fourth is a bonus and probably the real reason is helpful cats. Kittens (of any age) are curious and the like to be helpful. The fewer things around for them to rearrange when I’m not at my desk, the easier it is for me to find them the next time.

I hope these tips help you!