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The stress of mess: How clutter can affect your workflow

Written By: Simone Sonnier, UT Physicians | Updated: January 25, 2023
Cluttered Desk

Taking a moment to tidy up your workspace has more benefits than you may think.

Have you ever dealt with a random case of writer’s block out of the blue? Or perhaps been stuck on a particular project at work that would normally take you no time at all? Consider one thing — what was your external environment like at the time?

If the answer to that question is a mess (post-its everywhere, cluttered paperwork lining your desk, a stray mug or two) then you’ve experienced firsthand how clutter can affect your workflow.

Environmental well-being

Julie Van Orden, MHA
Julie Van Orden, MHA

While there are many factors that contribute to our overall environmental well-being, having a pleasant and stimulating space is one of them. Our mental well-being while at work can be greatly enhanced by a clean and peaceful place to accomplish our goals of the day.

Julie Van Orden, MHA, senior program manager for wellness at UTHealth Houston, explains how the external energy of the spaces we occupy affects our internal thoughts and processes.

“Physical space can support a vibe of calm, harmony, and peace through order, simplicity, furnishings, and color,” she said. “Conversely, spaces that are disorganized, unkempt, and cluttered may well invite what they represent — chaos and distraction.”

Spruce up your space

Keeping your workplace tidy doesn’t have to take major time. Consider these simple tips:

  • Keep a trash can nearby so you can easily dispose of those no-longer-needed notes or reminders.
  • Gather those cables! Bulky wires that get in the way can be tied together and placed out of your way.
  • Give your things a home. Pens go in your top drawer. Paperwork you need to hold on to goes into a folder that’s labeled. Whatever works for you!
  • End the week on a high note. Clean up any stray mess that may have accumulated during the workweek to set yourself up for success on Monday morning.

It may also be nice to add a few items to your space that brighten your mood — plants, pictures of your loved ones, a motivational quote, or artwork.

Recognize your strengths and challenges

The ability to establish order where there is chaos does not come naturally to everyone. If you find that your attempts to clean up your space do not evoke a sense of calmness or are not producing the results you envisioned, take a pause. Perhaps another person can aid in keeping you on track or make your vision of an organized workspace a reality. It is always better to recognize when help is needed so that your stress doesn’t turn into distress.

Van Orden recommends finding your own balance that helps encourage a productive day.

“When I recall my time in my undergraduate program, I remember that I could not begin working on a complex project or study for an exam if my dorm room was a mess. So, I had a ritual of cleaning my room that served as a precursor to starting my projects or studying,” she explained. “Others may have their own version of this. Ultimately, I suspect it’s individual to each person, yet there are always patterns to keep in mind. Harmony and calm may lead to creativity and inspiration, while clutter may lead to distraction.”

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.