What does your desk say about you? Does it convey the message “Respect the owner of this hallowed professional space?” or “Attention: creativity in progress?” Or does it warn “Caution: finding that file is going to take a while?”
Your positive words & actions speak loudest, but they’ll have less impact if your workspace sends a conflicting message. It’s worth a few minutes to make sure your desk is an effective envoy for your professional abilities. Take a look at these do’s and don’ts from www.salary.com.
I’d Rather Be Anywhere But Here
A couple of office appropriate vacation photos are fine, and give that faint bronze glow you’re sporting some context. But a countdown calendar to your next getaway or a predominance of souvenir drink umbrellas in your pencil holder might indicate that you’re more invested in the cruise brochures pinned to your corkboard than to next week’s new business presentations.
Confirm you’re committed to the present and open for business by minimizing indicators that you’d rather be elsewhere.
A Clean Desk is Good, but a Sterile Workspace is Creepy
While it’s reassuring to know an employee isn’t likely to max out his or her sick days, an overload of air fresheners and sanitizers could indicate an unhealthy obsession. Clean is commendable. Sterile is scary (unless you’re in a medical or food field).
And please, no antibacterial hand washing while others are present. They’ll either wonder where you just were or where you think they just were.
Fewer Toys. You’re Not a Kid Anymore
There is a bit of a double standard when it comes to office toys.
The stuffed monkeys, bobbleheads, lava lamps and mini basketball nets that often claim the desk space of those in creative fields can amplify that sense of an imagination at work. On the desk of a financial type, however, such toys may indicate a lack of focus (or potential toddlers lurking under the desk).
Take your cue from respected peers and your boss. In any case, don’t replicate a toy store unless you have the inventory to back it up. Your desk should say “works well with others,” not that you have more toys than a fifth-grader.
Sticky Notes = Lack of Technology Skills
If a light breeze would pose a threat to your task organization, it’s time to pull down the sticky notes and start compiling your lists in a way more befitting the 21st century.
The problem with paper lists is they quickly become part of the landscape. They put down roots, colonize and quietly clutter your space without your realization, creating an illusion of control for you while projecting a picture of disorganization to others. Digital organization is the answer and calendar alarms will be ever more effective than even the most emphatic “Don’t Forget!!!”
Avoid Desk Decoration Overload
If your desk is always a visual reminder to buy pumpkins, string lights or to hard-boil some eggs ASAP, others might begin to wonder wherever you find the time to be so festive. Your boss may question your priorities if she finds your cubicle draped wall-to-wall with evergreen garlands with the company newsletter on delay.
Your desk should demonstrate a commitment to company success that doesn’t change with the seasons.
Limit the Number of Inspirational Quotes
Quotes are cool and can be motivating in moderation, but aim them at yourself and keep them down to a couple of key inspirations.
If your walls are plastered with sunrise sayings and wise perky critters, you’ve crossed the line between offering polite encouragement and using your outdoor voice in an improper manner.
Better to focus on inspiring yourself. And as a side note: better not to look as if you need tons of motivational support to do your job well.
Wait…Who Works Here Again??
We’ve talked a lot about not overdoing it with personal effects on your desk, but there’s also the other end of the spectrum to consider.
If your desk is so barren that nobody would know who sits there if not for the nameplate, that’s something you should remedy at once. Just like too many family photos, framed diplomas and industry awards can be off-putting, the absence of all these things sends another message in and of itself.
Loosen up a little. Allow those professional journals a little shelf space. A diploma or two might fit up there as well. Don’t think of them as clutter but rather as conversational cues. No one needs to know you’re a closet Trekkie and ComFest devotee, but it won’t hurt anyone to know where you earned your MBA or whether or not you’re devoted to your family.
Besides, if your boss sees a barren desk it might look like you’re hesitant to settle in and get comfortable because you’re looking to jump ship.
Keep Family Pictures to a Minimum
A framed family photo or two says something positive about your values. But keep the pictures current and limit their number.
If You Keep Office Plants/Pets, Keep Them Healthy
Want a verdant desktop terrarium or lively fishbowl? Be ready to commit.
Optimally, your desk will project professional growth and accomplishment. Healthy greenery or happy active fish can send a positive aesthetic message, but dusty and withering plants and scummy fish tanks with wide-eyed floaters on the surface are visible failures. These desktop squatters have no right to be in your professional workspace.
Be realistic about what you can maintain, and maintain it well.
Declutter & Decaffeinate
A desk cluttered with empty coffee cups and energy drinks reveals a life lacking in balance. Protect company assets by taking care of yourself. Your desk shouldn’t reveal a dependency on anything but personal excellence.