Is Your Desk Destroying Your Productivity?

Piles of paper, e-mail, and desk toys can all rob you of valuable productivity time. Here's how to regain control of your desk.
Author, Profit First
August 21, 2012

I just got back from a run/walk/jog thing I do about three times a week. It feels good to get the blood flowing and since I have a track about a quarter mile from my home office, I have no excuse to not do it. (Although I found I am crafty at making up excuses. . . like going to my normal office, where it would be very awkward to throw on a pair of shorts and run around the parking lot.)

After I wash up, I'm ready to get back to my desk and to get back to work. What was I doing? Oh yeah, the proposal. I think there was an e-mail about that. Hey, my buddy from college just wrote. Oh geez, look at the time, I’ve got to work on that. . . what was it? E-mail. No wait, proposal. Talk about proposal, look at that stack of papers I need to go through. Wait a second, I haven’t swung the little steel ball on the office-desk-clacking-balls-toy in about 2 minutes. I’ve got to do that.

Does this sound a little like your own unproductive experience at your desk? Don’t blame yourself. Blame your desk. Here's the most common desk saboteurs, and how to combat them:

1. Constant sitting. Long periods of inactivity (except for sleep) are not good for your health or your attentiveness. Sitting and staring at a computer with the only activity being the click and clack of the keyboard drains your mental sharpness. The fix? Take regular breaks, every 50 minutes or so, and get active—go for a quick 10 minute walk, or do push-ups and sit-ups.

2. Clock distraction. Regular peaks at the clock trigger thoughts of overwhelm, regularly. The feeling of overwhelm manifests into distraction and results in inefficiency. If you want to be productive you need to focus on one thing at a time (contrary to popular belief, people cannot multitask). The fix? Put the clock out of your line of site. Use alarms on your computer or phone to ring at appointment times.

3. Piles of papers. Similar to the clock distraction, a pile of papers on your desk is a constant reminder of everything else you need to do.The fix? Create a single sheet to-do list, then file all the piled up paperwork on your desk into a cabinet—and out of site.

4. Desk toys. You know that cool desk toy your spouse gave you as a gift? It is a really nice way to get those mindless breaks you need from work. The problem is it is a major distraction at all times, not just when you need it. That little toy is causing you to take “breaks” way too frequently to be productive. The fix? Keep the desk toy stored away in a cabinet or if you want to display it, put it on a shelf out of reach.

The ultimate fix just might be a small standing desk with a surface space only for your computer and a piece of paper and nothing else. But if you are not ready for that extreme, making these changes to your current desk is a great place to start.

Does this sound like your desk? Tell us what distracts you the most in the comments box below.