How to spring clean your way to a less stressful remote workspace

by Melissa Cafiero

Work is always changing and always-on. Everything is important, and everyone and everything need to be seamlessly connected.

In this environment, both professional and amidst current events, it’s easy for the mind to feel cluttered, and that’s often reflected in your physical and digital workspaces — smudged rings on your desk from countless cups of coffee, carefully balanced piles of paper threatening to topple over from a light breeze, or an email inbox bursting at the seams.

The additional clutter that accumulates on and in your workspaces only adds to the chaos. If you’re feeling the burden, spring is a natural time to assess your workspace and do some sprucing up.

According to the American Cleaning Institute’s National Cleaning Survey, 77% of households planned to do some sort of spring cleaning last year. If you're currently working from home like many of us, the new season offers a chance to have a clean slate and set up a working area outside of the office that will support your needs — whether that's a dedicated room in your home or simply posting up at your dining room table.

There are many ways to clear up your workspaces — both digital and physical — and declutter your mind in the process.

An image of an envelope appears against a blue blackground, as a circular arrow appears in the top right corner of the envelope to indicate refreshing

Refresh your inbox (and take steps to prevent email overload).

Emails never end, so it’s important to find a method that works for you so you can stay on top of them. Whether that’s scheduling time each day to read email or having a rule to touch an email only once, there are plenty of strategies from which to choose. The key is to find an effective way to deal — one that you can stick with long term.

As you figure out your preferred process, take time to also learn about your email or inbox provider’s functions. Many offer the capability to set rules for automated actions (like filing newsletters in a folder or marking items from a specific sender urgent) and all providers should provide a way to organize and set up a filing system. Getting these foundations in place first will help you tackle the mayhem more effectively. Once you’ve identified your filing system, you can begin to sort, flag, and prioritize.

Another tip I’ve found immensely valuable is to set aside 15 to 30 minutes each week to unsubscribe from emails. You’ll only need to do it for about a month, depending on the frequency of random emails you receive.

It can be a painful, rote task, but it pays dividends. Your future self will be free from unwanted emails that only bog you down — like retailer messages advertising the latest sale or automated job posting alerts you signed up for when you were job-hunting. Remember: If you end up missing anything you unsubscribed from, you can always re-subscribe!

While you clean up your inbox, you may notice your physical workspace — specifically, your desk — is in need of some attention, too.

A top-down view of a desktop shows a cup of coffee, notebook, and mobile phone to the left of an open laptop, while a computer mouse appears on the right

Tidy up your desk and working area.

A cluttered space can be a stressful space, according to researchers, so it’s important to eliminate the clutter on your desk (or coffee table, or dining room table). Work can be stressful enough at times, so why add to it with visual detritus?

Unfortunately, those researchers have also found that procrastination is tied to clutter, as people tend to view organizing and cleaning as unpleasant tasks they’d prefer to put off. If you’re someone who tends to put off clearing clutter, try setting a timer for only 5 or 10 minutes and sorting items by trash/recycle, shred, or file.

You’d be surprised how much you can clear away in a short amount of time. Then, before you move on to the next thing, take action on your sort piles: drop those confidential papers at the shred bin or shred them yourself, file away the things you need to retain, and throw out or recycle the rest.

If you're working remotely or from home, consider tidying up at the end of each workday. It can help you keep clutter under control, and serve as a visual cue that the "work" part of the day is over and it's time to transition your brain for home life.

Once your desk is clear, it’s time to disinfect! While we’re usually more afraid of germs during the winter’s cold and flu season, they’re present all the time. And we're especially cautious of them today. Grab some cleaning solution or disinfectant wipes and wipe down every surface: your desk, keyboard, monitor, mouse, computer, monitor, and even your phone.

And don’t forget about that unwashed coffee mug you keep reusing. According to research data, it’s 15 times germier than the office toilet seat. (For even more gross stats about your desk and its germs, explore this interactive graphic from The Wall Street Journal.)

If you use Smartsheet regularly, or have been using the platform for many years, that can be another digital workspace to address on your organizing journey.

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Organize your Smartsheet Favorites and pinned items.

In many ways, the left panel in Smartsheet helps tie the platform together. If you use it effectively, you can hack your way to some hyper-organization and save time navigating.

Recently Opened and Favorites are simple, useful ways to keep track of priority initiatives and current projects. Both options give you the flexibility to add, change, and rearrange items as your work evolves.

As you evaluate what should stay or go, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I used this item in the last three months? If not, you may decide to remove it.
  • What’s the likelihood I’ll need this link in the next month? If it’s high, you might want to keep it.
  • Is this a frequently-used link? Depending on your answer, it may fit best as a Favorite or as a pinned item in the Recently Opened tab, depending on how you work best in Smartsheet. That’s the beauty of a flexible platform — you get to decide how to work.

Remember that Favorites are always organized alphabetically. As for pinned items, you can have up to 20 items pinned, and they’re organized by the order in which you pinned them — newly-pinned items appear closer to the top.

Get into the habit of updating these on a regular cadence — for you, that may mean monthly, quarterly, or annually — so the sheets, dashboards, and reports you need are only a click away.

It’s worth noting that not all personal items are bad. There’s a balance between an overly sterile and boring work environment and one that sparks energy, joy, and creativity.

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Add items to your workspace that make you happy.

This tip may seem counterproductive after you’ve just been advised to clear clutter, eradicate germs, and organize your space, but Ingrid Fetell Lee has a point when she says your workspace can — and should — inspire joy. Studies show that experiencing joy at work enhances your well-being and performance.

Some easy tips from Lee include adding a pop of color. Bright colors act as a stimulant, giving you energy and helping you feel refreshed. Cool colors like blue and green can help you feel calm. Once you pick a color, incorporating it into your workspace can be as simple as getting a new pencil cup in that hue or by finding pieces of art that incorporate the color(s) you want.

Another way to spruce up your workspace is to add a plant, which studies show can increase concentration and happiness. Houseplants are also useful for purifying the air, helping you breathe a little easier. In open office environments, be cautious about bringing in a plant with fragrant flowers, as it can have a negative effect on those who have allergies or are sensitive to strong aromas.

There are myriad ways to add more joy at work, so you’re bound to find an option (or three!) that works for you.

Clear the way to seize the day.

Work is dynamic, with constant demands. But with a can-do attitude, you can find better ways to work and exceed expectations. Clearing the clutter and adding more joy during the workday may seem like small changes, but increasing your happiness can actually help you grow your career.

Skeptical? Read our latest report, “Want to Supercharge Your Career? Prioritize Happiness,” to find out how.