A tidy desk is a tidy mind: A guide to decluttering your desk

If you find the messiness of your desk stressful, then this blog could be just for you! Sophie shares reasons to declutter your desk and how it might impact your work for the better.

What better way to start a new term than to give your desk a makeover! Research suggests that having an unorganised desk can make it harder to concentrate and be productive. As busy PhD students, keeping on top of your workspace can often be tricky but making time to keep it neat and organised can help with your mood and stress levels.  I have provided some easy tips below to help you declutter your desk and reclaim your working space:

1. Tidy your immediate study environment

  • Organising your immediate environment should be viewed as a form of self-care. A tidy desk will make you feel more relaxed as will be able to find documents when you need them with ease. By rearranging your study environment, you can find space for some healthy snacks, making them more accessible when you’re hungry. I often keep copies of journal articles on my desk. I recently had an article accepted into a journal. Therefore, I found this a perfect opportunity to sort out a pile of relevant papers I had kept for reference. This instantly made my desk a calmer place to work from.
  • Top tips: Reference software such as RefWorks or Endnote can help you organise your references. You can save your references into neat folders electronically and return to them when you have time. Furthermore, if you are recently starting a PhD you may receive lots of information e.g. workshop notes, induction information. It is a good idea to keep this information together in a folder for reference so you can find it easily when you need it. Ensure everything has its own place on your desk and try to put them back in the same place at the end of the working day.

2. Personalise your desk

  • If you return to the same desk each day, why not personalise your study space. It may make your work environment feel more relaxed and creative. Personalising your desk doesn’t have to be expensive (e.g. it could be a postcard from a holiday, a nice pen pot or a small plant).
  • Top tips: If you have been working at your desk for a while, it is easy to collect unnecessary items on your desk such as highlighters that no longer work or books you no longer require etc. You could take everything away and keep only the most essential items. This way your items will stand out and you can show your personality at work.

3. Electronic file management

  • Take time to save your files electronically. Also if you find you have made a lot of notes on paper, you could scan paper copies to ensure you have them in a safe place. This will increase efficiency and time trying to find documents. File management is especially important when you are completing your upgrade or writing up your thesis. Although this task may seem time-consuming now, in the long term you will be pleased you did it. It will increase your productivity during times when you need to focus the most. I recently decided to organise my files. I often I found through sorting through my electronic folders I found documents I had forgotten I had created. This has made me feel positive about the background work I have achieved.
  • Top tips: You might find it helpful to create subfolders and use a numbering system so that the files appear in the correct order e.g. 1. Introduction 2. Methods 3. Results. Additionally, when saving different versions of a document, it is best to save as a new name each time you make an amendment e.g. ‘Protocol V1’, ‘Protocol V2’, this way you can find an earlier version if you require.

Final words: So why not try out one of these tips? Remember it doesn’t have to be done all in one go. Taking a small amount of time to declutter and organise yourself can make a big difference in how you approach your work each day.


Do you have any tips to keep your desk clutter free? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.


Sophie Clohessy is a second year PhD student in the Applied Psychology team, WMG. Her research is investigating eating behaviours in the workplace. She has a background in Health Psychology and is passionate about healthy eating and exercise for wellbeing. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ClohessyS


Cover image: desk / georgie_cobbs / CC0 1.0

Image 1: untidy desk / designhorf / CC0 1.0

Image 2: flowers / georgiadelotz / CC0 1.0

Image 3: files / sharonmccutcheon / CC0 1.0

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