Most of us understand what clutter is. Clutter is the useless junk that accumulates around the house, the stuff you don’t need but can’t seem to get rid of. When we think clutter, we think objects. But there’s another, more sinister kind of clutter that could be eating away at your productivity: visual clutter.
Visual Clutter is anything that you can see but don’t need to see. For example you may have a supply caddy on your desk with your pens, post-its, scissors, highlighters, and all sorts of other office tools. But if you only use the highlighter once a month, it becomes visual clutter. Every time you reach for a pen you have to take a moment to process the presence of the highlighter and decide that it is not the item you want. You don’t notice that you’re doing it, and by itself it doesn’t seem to effect your day. But these little bits of micro processing can eat away at your ability to make important decisions. When you surround yourself with visual clutter, you surround yourself with distraction.
Here are a few of the top sources of visual clutter and how to handle them:
Dock or Task Bar
The taskbar on a PC and the Dock on a Mac are breeding grounds for unnecessary images. While they can be great for allowing quick access to commonly used programs, if they grow too big they become no different than looking through your entire folder of applications. Some icons might even be left over from when you first got your computer. Keep only the icons you use every week. Use Spotlight on the Mac or the PC find function to access other applications.
Just like with the Dock or Task Bar, you shouldn’t have a bunch of permanent shortcuts or icons on your desktop. Think of your desktop like an inbox: it’s a great place for current projects and temporary files, but nothing should live there permanently.
A Post-It is meant to be temporary – it shouldn’t stay fixed to the side of your monitor for months on end. Usually people do this with passwords, logins, and other website info. Consider other places the information can be stored, such as a single text file that’s easy to pull up on your computer. If you want to keep the info out in the open, find a better way to organize it at your desk, such as a printed sheet of paper taped onto the wall or to the inside of a nearby cupboard.
A desk full of unfinished tasks can make it difficult to focus on anything. Try cleaning everything off the desk and replacing only what you absolutely need for the next task (computer, mouse, external monitor). Put everything else in a drawer or box nearby, and see what you need to pull out of the box over the next few days. At the end of the week anything left in the box belongs in a drawer, not on your desk.
A fun picture of your kids is not visual clutter if it brings you joy. Just remember the golden rule of keepsakes: if everything is special, nothing is special. The more decorations you have up, the less important each one becomes. The items that decorate your workspace should be things you love. Sure the little figurine the title rep gave you is cute, but would you really miss it if it were gone?
Take a moment to look around your digital and physical workspaces and find the things you don’t need to see anymore.