Some advice for artists on being more organized.
Time for a confession: Our basement used to be an absolute disaster area. Over the years, we had let boxes, odds and ends, and even unused furniture accumulate to the point where it was hard to even get to our washer and dryer. Every time I went into the basement (which was several times a day) I felt a tinge of stress because of the clutter. I knew that cleaning it would be a big project and I had been putting it off, literally for a couple of years.
A few year ago, we needed to have a new furnace and air conditioner installed. When the representative from the company came to do an inspection and analysis, he had to go downstairs. I was embarrassed because I knew it sent a negative message. So in a flurry of activity the evening before he came, I cleaned the whole basement. It didn’t take that much time once I got started.
The difference was staggering. Not only did the area look like an entirely different place, it now resulted in a real sense of peace every time went into the basement.
This principle applies not only to any area of a house or building, including your work area. Perhaps especially to your work area. Most of the time we don’t give a lot of attention to how our workspace is organized, and how it’s functionally set up. But if this is where you do your work, your art, and where your creativity comes to life, you should make sure it’s set up for maximum efficiency.
The reason that a clean workspace is so important is because there’s an intimate link between your physical environment and your mind. Your state of your environment tends to reflect the state of your mind. But it works both ways. When you clear the clutter from your environment and have an orderly, clean place to work, it affects your mind. You have less stress and anxiety because the clutter is not there to distract you.
The Stereotypical Artist
Many of the people who read my blog and listen to my podcast are creative people—those who are making art, writing, developing content, and doing other kinds of creative work. All this begs the question: What about the stereotypical artist or creative person who has a messy workspace? What about the person who works best when there is clutter, and whose mind works that way?
I would say a few thing about the stereotype of the typical disorganized artist.
1. I don’t buy into the stereotype.
Sure, there are disorganized artists. There are disorganized, messy people in every kind of field. But not all artists are like that. Most of the artistic people I know tend to be more organized and put together, than not.
2. Being messy is a choice and not a personality trait.
Yes, certain personalities tend to be more clean and organized by nature. However, you have the power to make the choice to have a neat work environment.Third,
3. Just because you CAN work in a messy environment doesn’t mean that you SHOULD.
It’s kind of like driving a car with low air pressure in the tires. Can you still drive that way? Yes? But can you do something about it? Yes. You can put more air in the tires and the car will function more effectively. If you currently have a messy workspace and everything seems fine, you may find that you could be even better with a neater area.
5 Steps to Clearing the Clutter
So let’s dig in. Here are 5 steps to clearing the clutter from your workspace:
1. Deal with one area at a time.
If you have a really messy workspace or office, just take it one area at a time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with things and get stressed out. But you might start with one box, or start with your desk. Then once you have that organized, then move on to the next area. Doing it this way will give you positive momentum.
The important thing here is to just get started. It can be incredibly intimidating to stand in the middle of a messy area and envision a clean, neat environment. It’s much easier just to walk away. However, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just begin, and you will soon feel the momentum you need to carry you through.
2. Get rid of things you don’t really need.
Each of us has certain things we tend to hang onto longer than we should. For me, it’s technology. I’m the guy who still has cassettes from 1985 in his closet (and the Walkman to play them!). I tend to be a packrat.
A couple of years ago I moved to a new office at the college where I teach, and I gave away several boxes of books. My rule was that if I hadn’t used a book in 10 years, I probably didn’t need it. I didn’t apply this rule consistently because I have a lot of reference books I didn’t want to get rid of, but I did get rid of lots of books.
I also tend to keep old magazines. Every time I see a magazine in my office of house that I haven’t read, but that I paid for, I feel a tremendous sense of guilt. But the truth is that if you haven’t read it soon after you got it, you’ll never read it. So just throw it away or cancel the subscription if you don’t read it.
3. Free up the real estate on your desk.
Your desk becomes a catch-all for all kinds of things like mail, to-do lists, trinkets, pens, and other things. It’s importance to try and move everything off your desk except for the items you actually need. A messy desk doesn’t mean you’re busy or important. It just means you’re messy. And it’s amazing how much it reduces your stress when you have a clean desk.
A while back I was visiting a friend and saw his office. I couldn’t believe it—there were books piled all over the floor, and his desk looked like someone had literally taken a box of papers and dumped them all over the place. I felt incredibly stressed just being in that environment, and I have no idea how he concentrates or gets any work done.
I use a laptop and connect it to a second larger monitor on my desk. I have this setup both at work and at home. I have found that if you elevate the laptop to be at the same level as the bigger monitor, it creates a nice big viewing area. I use an mStand laptop stand, and it’s just one piece that has room underneath it. You can keep things tucked away, like a keyboard or a small scanner. It creates a little more room on your desk.
4. Get rid of as much paper as possible and “go digital.”
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been going through as many paper files as possible and scanning what I need to keep. This includes receipts, tax information, notes from college and grad school, appliance manuals, and many other items. This frees up space both in your filing cabinets, and your mind.
There are really only three things you should do with paper items:
- File it physically (in a file cabinet or drawer, or box)
- File it digitally (I’ll talk about this in a moment)
- Discard it
Whenever you handle paper, make a decision about it as soon as possible, then take action on it. When we put off taking action on paper items, we end up with piles of paper and it causes us stress. And when we feel stressed and overwhelmed, we can’t do our best creative work.
I personally use a Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300 scanner. It’s fast and effective, and you can set it up to scan directly into Evernote. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This is the exact setup I use in my home and work offices. I also have a shredder by my desk when I need to discard anything with personal information on it.
5. Don’t confuse “clean” with “perfect.”
I say this because if you’re like me (which is, a perfectionist) sometimes you put off doing work until everything is perfect and tidy. But if you’re not careful, you can easily procrastinate on getting work done. Things are rarely perfect, and when they are, it doesn’t last long. Don’t let your desire for a perfectly clean environment be an excuse for putting off work.
Those are 5 suggestions for clearing the clutter from your environment. What are the results? Here are 3 benefits of keeping a neat workspace:
1. More peace. You are dealing with less physical “stuff” that is cluttering your life. This has a positive effect on your mind, emotions and spirit. It simply makes life more enjoyable.
2. More focus. You have fewer distractions in your environment and can focus on the people and the work that matters most to you.
3. More momentum. Success breeds more success. If you are overwhelmed at the clutter in your life, just start in one area. Once you have it cleaned, you will feel a sense of momentum that will lead to more success. Dave Ramsey refers to his “debt snowball”; you might call this a “clutter snowball.”
Make your workspace a place that brings peace and harmony instead of stress and anxiety. This will have a great impact on your mind and fitness.
What can you do today to create a neater workspace? Maybe it’s a pile of paper you need to deal with. Maybe it’s some boxes you need to sort through, or some things you need to discard. Take a few minutes today and invest time in creating a better place to do your work.
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