Your workspace should be a peaceful place. How that looks is something you can define on your own, based on what makes you feel calm, what type of art you create, and what your needs are. Your workspace doesn’t need to look like mine, but don’t fool yourself into thinking a chaotic environment is working well for you. I’ve never met anyone who functioned well in a messy workspace. On the contrary, most people are anxious and have trouble focusing. Do not miss the connection between mental and spatial chaos. As Steven Pressfield wrote in The War of Art, “The Professional eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind.”
Whether you have an office, or a home office, or four square feet of your own in an apartment with six roommates, I urge you to optimize your little slice of real estate. Space is a luxury, however much of it you have. Being in it should feel great.
Order, for the creative professional’s physical space, can be achieved in three steps:
Scale down. The main reason that organizing is so daunting is that there’s so much to organize. Easy fix: get rid of most of your shit. Throw it away, give it away, or sell it. Easy guidelines that have helped me: if you haven’t used it in six months, get rid of it. If you’re not sure whether you need it, get rid of it. If you haven’t thought about it since the last time you saw it, get rid of it, and if it has sentimental value but isn’t beautiful or useful, take a nice picture of it and then get rid of it. Amos Tversky said it best: “Unless you are kicking yourself once a month for throwing something away, you’re not throwing enough away.”
Organize what’s left. Consolidated clutter is less stressful than clutter sprinkled everywhere. Scanner Pro allows you to scan papers from your phone straight into designated Dropbox folders. Evernote makes it possible to save (and search and retrieve) every worthwhile thought you’ve ever had.
Paper is cool and all, but save it for special occasions. I once worked with someone who insisted on only taking notes on paper. Not a notebook—actual single pieces of paper. Now he has twelve years’ worth of notes which are unsearchable and thus useless to him. On top of that, his office looks like a storage locker. Guess how much work he gets done in a day?
What apps you choose don’t matter; in most cases it’s not worth spending an hour to research ways to save five minutes. The best system is one that you’ll actually use. Pick your favorite or flip a coin.
- Embrace it. Now that you know where everything is, enjoy your new identity as an organized person. Working in a newly sorted space is like getting out of a UPS truck and into a Ferrari. You’ve traded your heavy baggage for horsepower. That feels good.
Is this whole “order” thing not working for you? Not what you grew up with? Not part of your personality? It’s easy to assume that some people are just naturally tidy and organized. Not so. It happens on purpose.
If you are questioning how organized your space should be, just ask yourself, “How clear headed would I like to feel and how well do I want to perform?”