What the most productive people keep on their desks

Could the items on your desk be hurting your productivity? Experts say yes. Whether it’s creating clutter that makes it hard to find what you need or providing a distraction that ruins your focus, the items you keep nearby have an impact on your work performance.

“Visual clutter can be incredibly distracting,” says productivity, time management, and leadership coach Alexis Haselberger. “People think it blends into the background, but it really doesn’t. With my coaching clients, we often speak about what to keep, and not keep, on your desk.”

A UCLA study found that when we’re in a cluttered space, our cortisol levels rise, heightening our fight-or-flight response and stress levels. Clutter overloads your senses, just like multitasking overloads your brain, causing you to feel stressed out and anxious. This can lead to distraction and inability to focus, says Haselberger.

Another way messy desks can affect your productivity is through wasted time. The average American spends 2.5 days a year looking for misplaced items, according to a study by the location app Pixie.


So, what should you keep on your desk if you want to be productive?

“Nothing—or at least as little as possible,” says Erin Clark, who writes the productivity blog Refined Revelry. Most of the time her desk only has her computer on it—and probably a cup of coffee.