Clean It Up! How to Develop a Plan for Keeping Your Workspace Neat

By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Unless you’re one of those people who needs chaos and disorder to feel alive, you know the reasons why you should keep your work area clean and organized. Thankfully...

  • You avoid those embarrassing stains on work surfaces, furniture or yourself
  • It’s easier and faster to find what you need so you’re more productive
  • Papers and supplies don’t get covered with crumbs from your favorite snack
  • Germs and dust aren’t in a death match for your health and wellbeing

So, yeah. You know why you should keep it clean at work. But it’s not that easy, right?

Why Cleaning Your Work Area Is Hard

There are two reasons why it’s a challenge to keep our work areas neat, according to Lynchburg, VA–based organizer Marcia Bennett, owner of Live to Manage, LLC. “The first is a result of all of the distractions we face on a daily basis,” she explains. “They cause us to lose focus and accumulate more clutter. The second is because we don’t allocate time each day to making sure it stays neat.”

Yes, it’s that simple. Just like the other important tasks you need to complete each day (exercise, anyone?), you’ve got to schedule time to straighten up.

“The best way to maintain a clean desk is to make cleaning it a habit. Turn it into a ritual. Set an appointment on your calendar,” advises Brittany Berger, digital content supervisor for eZanga

in Middletown, DE. “The last thing I do before leaving the office for the weekend is organize the things on my desk and the files on my computer's desktop. There's a calendar appointment that reminds me every Friday at 5 pm, so I won't forget.”

How to Build a Cleaning Plan

Designing a plan makes it easier to actually accomplish something besides just pushing stuff into the recycling bin or wiping crumbs onto the floor for the custodial staff to clean later. “When you have a documented plan for doing something, it eliminates the guesswork involved in completing the task,” Bennett explains.

Taylor Jay, officer manager at Canyon Resort at Great Hills Apartments in Austin, TX, recommends a checklist so you don’t miss anything. Each employee has one, so everyone’s on the same page. The result is a neat and tidy office environment. “A clean workspace carries over to everything you do,” he says. “Our philosophy is that if our workspace is messy, our work will be messy also.

Daily Tasks

Here are some tasks to include on your cleaning plan:

  1. Put items and files back where they belong.
  2. Secure in-progress projects you leave out so custodial staff feels confident cleaning around them.
  3. Recycle, shred or toss papers, snack wrappers and other refuse.
  4. Rinse and stow coffee mugs or return them to the breakroom (preferably in the dishwasher or rinsed and put away properly).
  5. Flag stubborn stains on hard surfaces, upholstery and carpeting/flooring for custodial staff attention.
  6. Use a microfiber cloth to remove dust from your computer screen/monitor.
  7. Wipe down your desk, keyboard and phone with antibacterial wipes.

PRO TIP: If you can’t complete this list daily, break it down and tackle a subset each day. If your back’s to the wall, at least straighten up the papers on your desk and use wipes on as much of the work surface as possible along with your phone and keyboard.

Weekly Tasks

  1. Remove all food and beverage items from your work area.
  2. Empty your trash and recycling into larger, centrally located bins, if available.
  3. Clean your computer monitor/screen with an approved screen cleanser or wipe.
  4. Remove dust and smudges from work areas, window treatments and windows with a multi-surface wipe and duster.
  5. Sort through piles of documents that have accumulated despite your daily efforts.
  6. Replace broken tools (the stapler that doesn’t staple, for instance) to reduce clutter and improve productivity.
  7. Spritz odor neutralizing fabric spray on upholstery and drapes and/or antibacterial spray on hard surfaces.

PRO TIP: Friday afternoon is a great time to complete any cleaning tasks you missed during the week.

Help for Office Managers

Even though we should all be responsible for keeping our own work areas clean, it often falls to office managers to oversee and enforce neatness and organization.

“It’s not hard to stay with a plan if the commitment is there,” says Andrea Brundage, owner of Simple Organized Solutions in Mesa, AZ. “Like anything, it must be a priority for each individual and there must be buy-in.”

One way to create urgency is to remind staff — without nagging — to keep it clean. “Send out tips/reminders on how to keep a neat workspace,” Bennett suggests. “Create a challenge in the office to motivate employees to be more receptive to being neat. Bring in a professional office organizer to give employees ideas on how to optimize their workspaces.”

Or integrate cleaning tasks into the standard workflow. That’s what Orun Bhuiyan did at SEOcial, the company he co-founded, which has offices in New York and Toronto. “Cleanliness and organization is such a challenge because it isn't directly related to business operations. It's not a category of tasks people prioritize in their minds,” he says.

To help the team prioritize, Bhuiyan created a division in the company’s project management system to address neatness and organization with recurring but non-disruptive reminders for team members.

“It's not 100 percent automated, but reliance on a system has made it easier to talk about these sorts of organizational challenges,” he says. “It's given everyone a sense of responsibility over organization and cleanliness, whereas before it was only something a select few would notice.

The Last Word on Making Cleanliness Happen

Now that you know why and how to develop a cleaning regimen for your personal space or entire office, here’s one final thought on the subject from American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC): “A clean desk and work environment leads to a more productive, happy and focused employee,” asserts Ashley White, HR director for the Houston, TX–based nonprofit. “I’m a big believer that if there is clutter in one’s physical space, it interferes with the mental space and corresponding work product.”

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