Look around your desk. If you’re surrounded by small mountains of papers and endless clutter, you’re not working as efficiently as you could, according to a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research. The study’s authors found that people working at a messy work space are less efficient, more frustrated and weary, and less persistent when faced with a challenging situation.
“Your desk says a lot about who you are and how you live,” says Lucy Lyle, founder of workspace upgrade site Perch. “It can also help you be more intentional with the way you work.” Here are five steps that will make your workspace more thoughtful—and efficient—by the end of the day.
Identify the Essentials
Research says tackling a mess you’ve created can be overwhelming because it shows an inability to control your own environment. Lyle says the best way to start is determining what you need within arm’s reach.
Phone, pens, glasses, coffee mug—position your most used items closest to your station and work outward. From there, go through every item on your desktop and determine its purpose and how often you use it. The more crucial and often referenced, the closer it should be.
Start Making Piles
The easiest way to conquer office clutter is to divide and conquer. Put everything into designated piles, each with its own category or action, e.g. “keep,” “take home,” “to do,” and “trash.” From there you can decide where it belongs. Be sure to explore every drawer, shelf, and corner. “Even a small bit of clutter has a tendency to grow over time,” says Lyle.
Give Everything a Place
The key to maintaining order in your office is keeping everything in its place. Otherwise, organizing becomes an endless task. Have labeled binders for papers, a folder for receipts, a tray or hook for keys, and a catchall for coins and other miscellaneous items. The more you abide by the system you develop, the less work it’ll take to maintain.
“As soon as you muddle a drawer or container, it becomes easy to put unrelated items there,” says Lyle. “Then you’re likely to abandon your system altogether.”
Think About Upgrading
Once you’ve done away with the clutter, it’s time to consider some upgrades. Again, the best place to start is with essentials. If you’re still using the office supplies you had on your first day, consider upgrading to a nicer stapler, scissors, and pen. “They’re small details that show you’re thoughtful and mature,” says Lyle. It doesn’t have to be expensive—just something that elevates your desk instead of using the same supplies as the intern. “It also shows that you have self respect and take your work seriously.”
This article originally appeared on Men's Health US.