Productivity Tip: Throw everything on your desk in a box 02 Aug 2005

40 comments Latest by Mike

Toss everything, and I mean everything on your desk in a box. If it doesn’t fit in a box, put it on the floor. Your desk should be completely cleared of everything — no monitor, keyboard, mouse, pencil, paper, stickies, gum, etc.

Next, get to work. Only remove something from the box (or the floor) when you absolutely need it. Not before. No anticipation. If you don’t need a pen now, don’t get the pen. Only place it on your desk when you need it.

Throw out the remaining items in the box in 30 days or sell the contents on Craigslist. Disclaimer: Before you toss it, you may want to go through it and make sure you pull out the picture of the family and the legal documents, but toss everything else.

40 comments so far (Jump to latest)

james cruden 01 Aug 05

Productivity Tip: Do Some Actual Work Instead of Reading This Crap.


Pedro - Brazil 01 Aug 05

I like it. This remembers that post about the tv program where they take everything outside your house.

Joost 01 Aug 05

Can I keep my computer on the desk? I’m fairly certain I’ll need it as soon as I’m done putting everything on my desk in a box sufficiently big to hold it all….

No Joost 01 Aug 05

You have to use paper and pencil until you get a note from the principal that you can use it.

MH 01 Aug 05

Unfortunately, managers will see your clean empty desk and assume that you’re not very productive…;-)

LB 02 Aug 05

How is this supposed to make you more productive exactly? All I can see is creating more work for yourself having to sift through a box everytime you need a pen!

A little bit of a hint as to why this is supposed to make me more productive would be appreciated.

craig 02 Aug 05

that’s funny, this was deleted last night…

now it’s back cuz you guys pulled a bone head move and got some bad publicity eh…

you are the redux masters tho!

Jeff Koke 02 Aug 05

It’s like this, if you remove everything from your desk and then add things back as you need them, you’ll eventually be left with a box full of stuff you don’t need. That stuff has been basically “getting in the way”.

It doesn’t make you more productive right away, but after a few weeks it will. It’s like cleaning out the garage or the closet. You’ll be more efficient if your workspace is optimized.

Christopher Fahey 02 Aug 05

I do this every few months myself. It’s a lifesaver. And I’ve never needed to open the boxes.

This goes double for my PC desktop. Every couple of months I create a folder called something like “Desktop August 2005” and dump nearly every icon on my dektop into it. Again, I almost never need to look in there ever again, and whenever I do it’s using a search tool, not by browsing to it.

In both cases, however, I don’t go through the symbolic task of boxing/archiving the stuff I’m going to use two seconds later, like the mouse and keyboard. That’s overkill, dontcha think?

Eric Lucas 02 Aug 05

I should have been clearer… the “he” is a poster to an Edward Tufte forum and not E.T. himself.

Brad 02 Aug 05

A variation on this technique works for clothes, too. The “box” in this case is the closet. Every year I take a quick look through my clothes: if I haven’t taken a particular article of clothing out of the closet in the past year, off it goes to Goodwill.

Jim Gaynor 02 Aug 05

We moved last spring - selling our home and shopping for a new place at the same time. To showcase the home we were living in, our agent suggested we “declutter” it. We sold things on craigslist, gave them away via freecycle, donated them to goodwill, or just recycled or trashed them. Not to mention filling a 10x10 storage space.

We were both amazed at how much better and more open our home felt, and at how few times we had to go to the storage space to get something.

Braden Kowitz 02 Aug 05

Alton Brown recommends this technique for managing tools in your kitchen. I think you make a good point about the tools around us. In general, the urge to collect “things” often gets in the way of productivity.

Alton argues that in the kitchen, it’s better to have fewer tools that are multi-taskers, than a thousand tools each for a specific task.

Dan Boland 02 Aug 05

A variation on this technique works for clothes, too.

You wanna talk to my wife for me? =)

Seriously, I became kind of “famous” at my office for the monumental amount of clutter on, under and around my desk. One day, I had enough and threw a ton of stuff in an empty drawer next to my desk. Much, much better, and it’s all stuff I never use.

Mie Phathogh 02 Aug 05

I think this is a capital idea. It’s also a direct lift from basic GTD, but who is scoring, 37s are now software development *and* productivity experts!

I think a better idea is to put all your effects into a toilet along with this feed and flush.

JF 02 Aug 05

Mie, I never said I was an expert, just putting a tip out there that helped me. Lighten up.

Lee 02 Aug 05

What a waste of pixels. Get real.

Alex King 02 Aug 05

Wow! That’s great! I just finished (no, I didn’t move my computer, couldn’t bring myself to) and it’s pretty cool having all that space. Easier to think.

Keep up these neat posts guys!

Brad 02 Aug 05

Alton argues that in the kitchen, it�s better to have fewer tools that are multi-taskers, than a thousand tools each for a specific task.

Okay, but no way am I giving up my strawberry huller, even if I only use it one month a year (when strawberries are in season)!

bort 02 Aug 05

good idea. reduce clutter NOW, worry about organizing and stuff like that later, if at all.

i need to find a box first… my floor is already full :P

J 02 Aug 05

Yes, this is a variation on something I was taught about paper files when working in a bureaucratic environment (I am that old ). Tape up files you think are dead, and put a date on them 6 or 12 monts (whatever) in the future. If you haven’t broken the tape when the date arrives, throw them away UN-OPENED.

Dan H 02 Aug 05

Productivity Tip: Everyone pull your panties out of a bunch. Geesh.

Not everything I read from 37signals can be the most insightful post of the year. I come back everyday because I think they’re good writers, and they have interesting topics - some of which are useful. Some aren’t useful to me, but I appreciate them for their quality anyway.

James, LB, Lee, etc. …go complain on slashdot, you’ll be in good company there. The rest of us, let’s enjoy Signal vs. Noise for what it’s all about.

evan 02 Aug 05

i wonder how many of you have boxes of crap at your feet now.

i like crap on my desk, it’s inspiring.

Brad 02 Aug 05

i like crap on my desk, it�s inspiring.

But I bet it smells.

Christopher Hawkins 02 Aug 05

I think a lot of you are missing the point.

Physical clutter yields psychological clutter. Haven’t you ever noticed how clear-headed you feel when you give your office or your home a good cleanout? It’s not just the satisfaction of a job well done.

evan 02 Aug 05

“Physical clutter yields psychological clutter.”

true, but not for all.
there’s a lot of stuff on my desk, and it’s all there to keep me inspired to create. organization is a good thing, but not just getting rid of everything.

Rida Al Barazi 02 Aug 05

I liked it.. I do the same on my computer desktop :)

Ian 02 Aug 05

The difference between this and GTD is that David Allen would have you go through everything in the box and decide on its usefulness then and there.

This might work if there is so much clutter you are starting to lose things. But if you can still find everything, what’s the point? You’ll be spending a lot of time putting stuff into a box and then trying to find stuff throughout the day for a few weeks. With GTD you can go through everything in the span of an hour or two and create an organized system.

And I think that’s more in line with the concept of reducing clutter… clutter doesn’t have to do with the amount of stuff, but the amount of unorganized stuff. If it has its place and is off your mind, what’s the harm even if you only use it once per year?

Tim Almond 03 Aug 05

Before I buy anything, I ask myself “how often am I going to use this?”. If it’s once a year, I consider whether I’d be better off renting, or making do, or just paying a guy to do the job with the thing I need.

For instance… I have some tall trees that I have to cut down every few years. So why buy a chainsaw that I’ll use every 2 years, when I can rent one, that’s going to be a pro machine and at the end of the weekend, goes to someone else.

Also, I think it’s a reason I like a lot of open source software. No CDs. Just go on the web and download it again.

sj 03 Aug 05

Dan Sullivan has a seminar called ‘How the Best Get Better’ and it has some really great stuff. One of them is called ‘The No-Office Solution’ with a similar premise - that there’s simply too much junk around to get anything productive accomplished.

Instead of having a typical office, your have a nice sized conference table with phone jacks (or your cell,) internet hookups (or wireless,) etc. When you need a stapler, you grab a stapler. When you need a file, you grab the file.

Doesn’t sound too efficient, but what you quickly discover is that you don’t use these things nearly as often as you think. In fact, when you’re doing work that directly improves the company’s bottom line or service offering (which Sullivan suggests is the purpose of a true superstar at any company,) you’re almost never doing this stuff.

Food for thought - seperated from his other ideas, it’s not that powerful. But his seminar has a ton of great stuff…might want to check it out.

Pete Prodoehl 05 Aug 05

Why not just remove desk? You’ll get even more done!

(Assuming you have a laptop and can place it on your lap, or the floor, or a chair…)

JF 09 Aug 05

Another thing I’ve found that’s useful is to not have a desk with drawers. Drawers encourage you to get stuff out of the way but not have to think about it. And before you know it your drawer is a mess. When you really have to think about what’s important, you don’t have much problem throwing away the things that aren’t.

iain 12 Aug 05

This feels exactly like clearing a cache.

Look for other places in your life where the same principles can be applied: move everything far away, and only bring stuff to where it’s used when you use it.

Mike 23 Nov 05

Better still, before putting everything on your desk into a box, take out your camera or camera phone and take a photo of your desk, then email it to [email protected] and the guys at will gladly show off your desk in whatever state it may be in.

Remember: Your desk is a statement about YOU! :-)

John 04 Mar 06

I did this, and my boss came running out thinking I was quiting.

Mike 03 May 06

Ha Ha!!! - So John, when can we expect a photo of your desk? - Your desk is a statement about you.