Productivity. The product of your activity. The active production of results. Or, you know, that thing you're always chasing but struggle to hold onto.

Really, though, productivity is about using your time as efficiently as possible to complete as much quality work as possible. Maybe you've asked yourself how you can improve your productivity at work. Maybe—and I certainly hope not, for your sake—your boss has asked you how you can improve your productivity at work. I'll bet you never expected the answer to involve your desk setup, right? I hope not, because I take an almost suspicious amount of pleasure in surprising people with bits of information like that one. My odd eccentricities aside (or to be sprinkled throughout this post—wait and see), let's take a look at some of the ways in which your desk setup can help improve your productivity at work.

Reducing clutter can help you focus

I don't know about you, but I am a sprawler. I feel much more organized when I have physical copies of my notes, and I spread these in various piles across my desk so I can find each paper when I need it. This, along with my pens, computer monitor and keyboard, coffee cup, tissue box, glass of water, and other assorted desk items, can make for a pretty cluttered desk setup. But I always tidy up before moving on to my next project. Why do I, lazy person that I am, do this every day?

I make a point of decluttering because a cluttered desk is not conducive to productivity at work. The science behind this has been explored in many studies, but this one explains the phenomenon of distraction best: environments with multiple stimuli are distracting, as the various stimuli compete with one another for your brain's attention. To counteract the many distracting influences around you, your brain chooses one stimulus on which to focus. The problem, of course, is focusing on the correct stimulus. The fewer your options, the more likely you are to focus on the right thing.

Does this mean that your desk setup should remain as boring as possible? Not necessarily. Another study ( found that grouping objects may help reduce distraction. Essentially, things that go together should . . . well, you know . . . go together. For example, I have a few containers of loose-leaf tea on my desk. All three cylinders are of approximately the same size, and they all sit together. When I'm working on my computer, my eyes still see all three containers, but my mind essentially perceives them as a single object. (On that note, a hot cup of tea would not be the worst thing in the world right about now. Hang tight. I'll be right back.)

Make room for a desk plant

Okay. My tea and I are back, and we're ready to talk about my cactus. I have this cute little purple plant on my desk. It looks something like this:

Desk plant

It's rather adorable, and it requires very little water, which is good, because otherwise it would have perished long ago. I have this plant because it's supposed to make me happier and improve my productivity at work.

Lots of studies indicate a correlation between employee happiness and increased productivity. Listening to music at work, for example, may have a positive effect on employee productivity. And, according to a 2014 study (, plants in the workplace can also have a positive effect on our mood and productivity. They also have some other wonderful effects, such as combating sickness and reducing noise. So, after you've decluttered, consider allocating a small space for a plant of some kind.

Don't use your desk as your lunchroom

This one isn't really about your desk setup, per se, but taking meaningful breaks away from your desk is one of the best ways to boost your productivity. You may think that juggling your peanut butter sandwich and your mouse allows you to spend more time on the task at hand. However, getting away from your desk can actually help you spend less time on each task, as the time you do spend on each task will be more productive. Giving yourself a mental break also helps you return to a given task with a fresh mind, and working harder for short periods of time has been proven to be more effective than trying to work constantly.

So, though your desk should be comfortable, it should not be meal-friendly. Get up, move around, socialize, and come back ready to work.


Changing your desk setup may not change your life, but it could help improve your productivity at work. Reducing clutter, having a bit of green in your life, and using your desk as a workstation and a workstation alone just might make you a happier and more productive worker. On the downside, you might find yourself craving tea and shopping online for adorable cacti. But at least you won't have peanut butter on your mouse.

Image sources: Bench Accounting/, Brooke Cagle/

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