Why Changing Your Desk Changes The Way You Work

To clutter or not to clutter? That is only one of many work-space issues. Let’s go beneath the surface.

Why Changing Your Desk Changes The Way You Work
[Image: Flickr user Ben Lipkowitz]

What you’re working on is really important.


No, not the task on your to-do list–the actual surface that you’re physically working on. Your desk.

As people are getting more mindful of their workdays, they’re getting more mindful of their work spaces. Citing the dangers of Sedentary Death Syndrome, some won’t stand for anything less than a standing desk: Hemingway stood in oversize loafers as he typed his stories, while HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes tells us that standing desks abound in his company’s office.

But, of course, having an awesome desk isn’t only a matter of sitting or standing. What’s on it matters, too. Fast Company readers, being awesome, have shown us the importance of having dinosaurs, boundless walls, and a dose of Iron Maiden.

Another factor with the desk is your equipment: a gigantic calendar, we’ve learned, provides a landscape for you to plan your days–and an analog space for sketching ideas. Family photos keep you calm. And disinfectant wipes will keep things from getting too gross.

Correspondingly, the desk don’ts hinge on not being gross. Like:

  • Don’t brush your hair, clip your nails, floss your teeth.
  • Don’t broadcast your “edgy” beliefs.
  • Don’t neglect the unavoidable scuzz.

Why do the desk do’s and don’ts matter so much?


Because our environments affect us in ways we don’t realize. If we’re too cold, we can’t concentrate, since our bodies have to spend energy heating themselves rather than solving problems. Similarly, our work spaces shape our mental spaces. As Erin Doland explains at Unclutterer, the random crap that accumulates on your desk is a distraction for a mind that’s already prone to wandering:

The clutter competes for your attention in the same way a toddler might stand next to you annoyingly repeating, “candy, candy, candy, candy, I want candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy. . . . ” Even though you might be able to focus a little, you’re still aware that a screaming toddler is also vying for your attention. The annoyance also wears down your mental resources and you’re more likely to become frustrated.

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.