All through my life I have never been a particularly organised person. If you looked at my work desk you’d see it cluttered with stuff. Mostly with papers. Piles of papers and folders. It was at the time when I worked as a civil engineer. I had to deal with a lot of paper drawings. But still, if you compared my desk to the desks of my coworkers you’d see a drastic difference. At times I had stacks of folders on my desk that were taller then the monitor of my computer.
Then when I switched to programming, things got better. I didn’t have that much stuff on my work desk any more. But I still had some. Again mostly papers. Many of these papers were not even mine. If somebody put something on my desk it would stay there forever. I did cleanups from time to time but it didn’t help. The good news was that now my desk was not the most disorganised desk in the office. All my coworkers had pretty much the same situation going on on their desks. Not huge piles of papers but still messy workplaces.
One day I saw a YouTube video where a guy was talking about how he ‘went paperless’. For couple of minutes into his talk I couldn’t quite figure out what he was talking about. Going paperless? Why would anyone do it. Why should anyone even think of such a thing. Before I watched that video I didn’t even view paper as a problem. But as the guy explained how his life changed after he went paperless it dawned on me that ‘going paperless’ is exactly what I needed.
At that time I was getting ready to start working remotely. I was still working at the office in Moscow. But I was to go to my home city of Stavropol in few weeks to work remotely in the same position for the same company. And I decided that at my home office I would go paperless.
I started throwing away my paper journals while I was still in Moscow. At my apartment in Moscow I had all sorts of paper notebooks. I had a dream journal, a goals journal, a journal for my workouts, a journal for my daily to-dos, a journal for my ideas and maybe couple of other journals. I spent several evenings digitising all that journals. I would type important information like logins and passwords into a password protected text file. I took photos of other useful stuff from my journals and stored them on my computer. After that I destroyed all my physical journals. It was a relief to know that I was dependant no more on some physical objects like paper journals to store important information.
Now I store all the important documents in three places: on my computer, on my external hard drive and in the cloud.
Keeping some paper
I kept only one paper notebook. It’s just a blank notebook with tear-off sheets. The reason I kept it is simple. There are certain activities which are done more conveniently on paper than on the computer. Sometimes I need to draw something quickly that will help me to solve a problem at hand. Also, when the problem is really hard, I like to think on paper. I just write down my thoughts so I don’t loose my train of thought. Sometimes I need to derive a formula. In all those cases paper is irreplaceable.
So I only have one paper notebook left now. And I decided that I will never use it as a storage of information. When I use up a number of sheets in it I just tear those sheets off and throw them away. That way I always have a clean notebook. If I ever need to keep something from this notebook for later I would just take a photo of that thing, be it a formula, a drawing or something else. Up until now I never had to.
The secret to tidiness
Going through this process of decluttering my workspace I found out the reason I was so disorganised up until that point. It turns out I was some kind of a hoarder. I just had too much stuff. And the secret to being organised is to have as little stuff as possible.
Just take a look at my desk:
How are you going to make a mess on your table if you don’t have a lot of stuff in the first place? No matter how lazy or disorganised you are, you will always have a tidy desk.
And this is the biggest mess I can ever have on my work desk nowadays:
Also take a look into my top drawer:
This is all the stuff I have there. So, whenever I need a pen and a notebook, for example, I don’t have to look for them.
For many years I was very disorganised. I even took pride at it. I thought that the fact that my workplace is a mess somehow indicates that I’m a creative person. I thought that to have a tidy work desk you need a lot of discipline that would enable you to clean your desk regularly. And I just didn’t have that discipline, because, you know, I’m so creative. I didn’t have time for boring stuff like cleaning my desk.
Now I know it’s all BS. The mess on your desk indicates only your lack of priorities. Have only the things that you need, and don’t have the things that you don’t need. It’s as simple as that.