Clear that Desk! – Tips on achieving a more minimalist, lean workspace

Earlier this year I wrote a post about managing workplace clutter and my own personal quest for a minimal ‘lean’ workspace. At the time, I wasn’t sure how easy my seriously pared down workspace was going to work out. Would I be buried under clutter a few months later, or constantly frustrated by having nowhere to put anything?

In fact, the transition has been ridiculously easy. Not once have I regretted any of the decisions I made and in fact, not having drawers to manage, organise and of course dust has been really liberating. My workspace looks exactly the same as it did in December 2017 when I made the change and I’ve never looked back.

Recently, some of my colleagues in marketing are now in the position where they need to fit extra desks into their work area and they are now facing a similar challenge as they move from 1800 mm wide desks down to an austere 1200 mm. This is a massive challenge for my marketing buddies. They are faced with obstacles that go from where to fit two screens and a large computer box to how to find a place for their essential snacks.

As I’ve been coaching them through this process I’ve worked out a few tips for anyone who wants to reduce their workspace footprint or create a leaner more minimalist desk.

1.  Stay Calm

Don’t think for a second that this process is not going to be overwhelming at times. I’ve been in the process of downsizing my required office space for years and every time I take another step I start feeling stressed, under pressure and overwhelmed. It’s really hard to decide what to do with all the things that accumulate over time.

Just breathe and work through things a little bit at a time.

2.  Trial run

Using tape, post-its or another method, artificially reduce your the size of your desk. Then try arranging your items in the new space.

When I took my desk down from 1800 mm to 1200 mm I prepared for the change quite deliberately. I spent a few weeks with my desk taped off at different sizes to work out exactly how small a workspace I could get away with. I rearranged my essential things, computer, phone etc as if they were already on a smaller desk. This way I found that I could get away with reducing the depth of my desk from 800 mm to 700 mm but not to 600 mm if I wanted to keep a large monitor. I also worked out I could get away with a 1000 mm wide desk but opted for 1200 mm for a bit of luxury!

During this process I clearly identified what would need to change for me to be able to work with this smaller size. For example, I problem solved to remove a document holder I had that didn’t fit by working out what paperwork I had to have with me every day, what i needed less frequently and what added no value in hard copy.

Little by little I worked through each issue, finding lightweight, paperless solutions to many of things that would prevent me from moving forwards. There are thousands of stationary and office accessory solutions out there. You just need to find what works for you and your specific situation.

3.  Office Packing Party

A novel approach I have encouraged my marketing colleagues to try is the Packing Party concept. Pioneered by Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists as a radical way of decluttering his house, the concept can also be applied to your desk. Pack everything up from your desk into tubs or boxes, leaving a clear empty space. Then begin your work day. As you need something, ‘unpack’ it and put it on your desk. I guarantee at the end of the first day, you will have a fraction of your items unpacked. Do this for a few weeks or even a month and take note of what you actually need to do your job. At the end of this trial, make some decisions about what to keep and what to discard.

4.  Be prepared to work with less

Unfortunately, there is no way that you can move to a smaller workspace without a few casualties along the way. Many of us have mementos, photos and other items on our desks that may have to go by the wayside as we pursue a more minimalist workspace. To get past this, I try to put things into perspective by thinking about my factory based colleagues who work in shared, designed workspaces with no room for personal items. I also try and think about how personal items will add value to my daily work process. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have the odd fun trinket around the place. I have a couple myself. These just have to be kept at a level that will allow us to work in a smaller place comfortably.

Office space can be at a premium as businesses grow. Unfortunately, for many businesses the perfect, stylish, architecturally designed office space is an unreachable pipe dream. Just as in manufacturing, we find ourselves needing to do more with less. Reducing workspace size is one way of creating more space in a cramped office, or getting essential new resources into a previously spacious one.

My marketing colleagues are taking on the challenge this October, are you up for the challenge too?

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