Could a clear-desk policy help our mental wellbeing?

18 May 2018

Having a clear desk can of course be important in many jobs for data protection reasons. But could it also be good for our mental wellbeing?

What do studies suggest?

Scientists have found that being in a cluttered environment may make it more difficult for us to focus.1 When there are lots of objects and shapes for your brain to take in, this can affect how quickly your brain can process situations.1 It’s also thought that our brain treats the objects we see as if they were competing for our attention. That might explain why we can feel so confused or unfocused when there’s lots of clutter around us.1

Following this logic, it’s quite possible that having a clearer desk may help us to think more clearly at work. If this helps us to work effectively and reduces our stress level, then that’s potentially good for our mental health too.2

Tips to reduce the clutter

Here are some tips to get you started with clearing the clutter. Why not pass them on to your team too? 3

  • Lockers or boxes can be a great starting point. Start from scratch. Get rid of everything on your desk by putting it into a box. Slowly bring something back each day. If it’s the stapler, can it go in a drawer? If it’s a piece of paperwork, complete it and then file it away.
  • Can you get rid of anything? If after a while there are items that you haven’t taken out of the box, re-evaluate whether you need them.
  • Prioritise. Organise your desk and drawers by importance. Put whatever you use the most in the drawer nearest to you, and store what you use the least in the drawer furthest away. If you don’t use something very often, could it be placed in a separate cupboard?
  • Tidy those leads and cables. Tie up loose cables and tuck them out of sight. If you can, run them along the back of your desk and away from the floor, so that they’re not causing a trip hazard.
  • Create some order. Give everything on your desk its own place and make sure it goes back in the correct place at the end of your working day. This doesn’t need to take long. Five or 10 minutes at the end of your day will do.
  • Chip away at it regularly. Your desk will get messy during the working day; check in with it at regular intervals and, wherever possible, tidy up as you go along.

Keeping mentally well

If you or a colleague are finding it difficult to concentrate at work, it could be that you’re feeling stressed, under pressure or overworked. Bupa has more information about workplace mental health for managers and employers which could help.


1. McMains Sand Kastner S. interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in human visual cortex. J Neurosci. 2011, 31 (2) 587-597; DOI:
2. Chae B, Zhu R. Environental disorder leads to self-regulatory failure. J. Consumer Res, 2014; 40. DOI: 10.1086/674547
3. Personal communication with Jane Bozier, Registered Nurse and Mindfulness Expert, Bupa UK, February 2018

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