Article by Jason McCann

“Being busy means doing stuff, but being productive means getting stuff done.” Wiser words may never have been spoken. As a leader, I believe the idea now more than ever, although I did not fully understand it early in my career. In fact, I spent years trying different strategies to maximize my productivity. To this day, I continue to learn more; it has been a lifelong experiment.

I’ve looked high and low for answers, but a key solution was literally right in front of me all along: My desk was a mess. That matters because not only do you lose time sorting through clutter, but an unorganized space creates negative energy. Sure, I got things done, and I continued to learn and grow in my career, but it wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I finally figured out how to optimize my workspace.

Now that I’ve fully implemented the formula, I’m much happier and infinitely more productive. My desk is now my oasis. Adopting these seven habits made all the difference:

1. Clean Up Your Space

Some people are naturally more orderly, but research makes it clear that a tidy, simplified workspace promotes productivity for everyone. It also impacts your relationship with coworkers, as many people assume those with cluttered or dirty work areas are lazy or unorganized. Think about your own first impressions when you walk into a clean restaurant, hotel, restroom, or store. Consciously or not, you believe the establishment cares about the details and takes pride in the work.

Taking a few minutes to make sure your workspace is neat and tidy will allow you to focus on the bigger things — and make you look more competent in the process.

2. Create the Right Energy

Your workspace reflects who you are, so make it welcoming, calming, and focused. Incorporating a few personal touches — a picture or two, a small potted plant, a Rubik’s Cube — into your desk space will do wonders for your mental focus. Quality lighting that’s not too glaring nor too dim is also vital for optimum productivity.

I prefer minimalism when I organize my workspace. I like to be free from distraction. I also believe positive energy makes you more productive. It’s hard to describe, but you know it when you feel it. It’s important that you surround yourself with the pieces, furniture, and people that create positive energy for you. For me, that means neutral colors, access to natural lighting, plants, and amazing coworkers.

3. Turn Off Your Notifications

You’re watching someone give a presentation, and alerts keep popping up on their screen. They act like it’s not a distraction, but they have to pause and close each notification before moving on. We’ve all seen it happen. Chances are, it’s happening at your desk, too.

One of the best things I’ve done for my productivity was shut off my notifications. Absolutely nothing pops up on my computer screen, and no one buzzes my phone except my family. The idea that being constantly available makes you a better worker is a myth. Shut off your alerts, establish specific blocks of time for checking messages, and watch your productivity surge.

4. Cut Down on Paper

Clutter in your workspace slows you down, distracts you, and increases your stress. You probably don’t need most of the stuff on your desk, and any papers you may need later can be filed away. Overall, searching through electronically stored documents is far more efficient than digging through mounds of paperwork.

5. Make a Stack

I admit it: I’m a stacker. As clear as I keep my work area, I always have a single stack of papers on one corner of my desk, ready for my attention. I make my stack throughout the day and clear it before the end of the day or first thing in the morning. I also cover my stack so I am not distracted by what’s on top. This way, I know what needs my immediate attention and can stay focused on more timely tasks.

6. Keep a Notebook

It may seem archaic, but research has shown that writing notes by hand creates better retention. Scribbling a list or agenda each day allows you to sort and prioritize activities in your head so that you enter your day with more clarity and focus. I always keep a notebook open on my desk, beside my paper stack, and take it to all my meetings.

Need more proof that this works? Richard Branson has years’ worth of notebooks filled with his ideas and thoughts.

I’ve tried lots of notebooks over the years. For me, the best option is blank white pages without lines. This simple, clean layout allows me to sketch an idea, write some words, make a list, etc. It’s free-flowing, which works for me.

7. Plan People Time

Every job requires face time with colleagues and vendors. Whether it’s checking on employees you supervise, answering customer emails, or listening to calls about your product, people take time. I used to overlook this fact back when I scheduled tasks to fill every minute of my workday.

Now, I try to save roughly 30 percent of my time at the office for people-related tasks. Knowing I have that time set aside allows me to be present when I’m with people. I’m not supposed to be doing anything else with those minutes, and that makes a huge difference.

In school, it was taught as MBWA: management by walking around. As a kid working in my mom’s hair salon, it was watching her take care of personal clients while mentoring fellow cosmetologists and talking with their clients. As a waiter in college, it was observing all the moving parts. Here at VARIDESK, it allows me to fly at 30,000 feet while also experiencing what’s going on with my team on the battlefield of business.

A version of this article originally appeared on

A lifelong entrepreneur, Jason McCann has more than 20 years of experience building and running successful companies. As a founder and the CEO of VARIDESK, Jason’s mission is to help companies reimagine the workspace. VARIDESK started with one innovative product and has grown to be a global leader in workspace innovation with products found in more than 130 countries.

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