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Life Clever: Secrets of the Tidy Desk

10 tips for keeping your desk clean and tidy

I linked to this very swell Life Clever article via del.icio.us the other day, but there's so much savory goodness in here, I feel like revisiting it.

Like a lot of good stuff, this article is about more than it first seems, since a tidy desk can be a MacGuffin; this is ultimately about a tidy approach, or, if you prefer, a tidy mind.

It means that you can create a physical workspace that supports your style of thinking and your approach to action, rather than having it be a purely aesthetic artifact of, say, your OCD or your secret fetish to work in an operating theater. Most importantly, you know where stuff goes because you know where your brain will want to look for it at the right time later on, right? And, as you eventually learn, if you can't immediately grok whether a given piece of paper is trash, actionable, or just for reference, you will be, as Walter Sobchak says, "entering a world of pain."

Like Martin Ternouth's excellent paper-based system, Chanpory's tips encourage you to build fences between projects and tall walls between statuses. For example, think about how a frequent usage of an "Incubate Box" might change the chaotic state of your thinking (as expressed in the mystery-meat piles on your desk):

On top of your Inbox tray, stack another letter tray to put items that are “on hold”. These are items you aren’t yet ready to do or complete in here. They may be articles you’re thinking of reading, sketches for potential projects, and information about events you might attend.

Good stuff (although you want to be careful not to let this become a second "Inbox"). In some sense, if everything mystery-meat goes into a box called "mystery-meat" -- well, it's kinda not really mystery-meat anymore, right? Right.

The whole setup described in the paper management section is worth trying since it's a complete and mostly career-agnostic approach -- the only leak would be your ability to apply it habitually. Anyhow, I encourage you to read it over if dealing with paper claims any portion of your mental bandwidth.

And there's more to like in this piece. Tips on throwing away crap pens, avoiding the collection of 4th rate conference junk, and thinning the number of non-critical books within reach all support the same goal: to develop a healthy approach to information and paper management that keeps everything in its place and lets you focus on the work rather than constantly wondering "where it goes."

Great work, Life Clever!

Commentary from Professor Merlin

A propos of nothing and purely my own commentary here...to other folks starting (yet. another.) productivity blog: if you want folks like me in your audience, please do stuff like this rather than just pointing without comment to other productivity blogs as your primary source of material. Pure link blogs are played, my friends.

Instead, why not try to contribute something more thoughtful to the mix? That's what the Life Clever guys are doing, and they're kicking ass. Tell us what's working for you (and why!), and, for the love of God, help us learn about more than your fondness for del.icio.us/popular and Ecto.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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