I enjoy cooking. It's cathartic, meditative and enjoyable. Sometimes I count down the clock until it's time to start on dinner. Thursday nights are my night to provide dinner for the family. Sometimes the kitchen is chaotic. I can't work in these conditions! First things first, I clean the kitchen.

Every day, for the last 438 days, my desk has been organized at the end of every day. I put my papers away, ensure things are taken care of and in their place. This is easily measured, but what about when it isn't?

As someone building software products, my kitchen is virtual which makes it incredibly difficult to measure organization. 

If you can't measure it, you can't improve it

Peter Drucker

There are countless posts on why it's important to keep an organized workspace. While I don't think organization is the same as cleanliness (others would call my desk cluttered, I'm sure) I don't think I need to talk about this any further. This post is about how to measure organization in a virtual workspace.

The right time to organize is not just at the end of the day, but before the start of any task. Organize your work area, get the ingredients, plan and execute. These changes can bring about productivity boosts by removing distractions and clarifying intention. When your workspace informs you what you should be working on and only that, it requires making a choice to be distracted. In the rest of this post, I'll share how I setup my computer to ensure I have to act to move away from my task at hand.

Howto: Using Workspaces

Very rarely does a person work day in and day out doing the same thing. I bounce between my email, browsers, HipChat and IM for collaboration, coding sessions, and several writing programs. Each context is on a separate workspace which I can quickly setup.

Everything here is for the task at hand. Nothing else!

Everything here is for the task at hand. Nothing else!

I have a general purpose workspace which has a general purpose browser, my collaboration applications and my calendar.

Next I have a workspace dedicated to each project I'm working on. If there is specific collaboration for this project, I'll move that here. This means that I have HipChat on Workspace #3, as well as browser and coding windows open there.

Key Technique: Create a workspace for each task. Keep all applications there. When in that workspace, work only on that task. Before starting, remove all applications that are not absolutely required to do that task. Do not switch workspaces until the task or work session is done.

Measurement: Survey all windows and browser tabs. Anything off topic? Close it or move it to the general purpose workspace.

Success Looks Like: Cleaner workspaces that promote better focus.

For OS X, use the built-in workspaces. Windows 8 does not provide this feature natively, but DexPot and nSpaces are 3rd party tools that create this. Most Linux distributions targeting the desktop support this best.

To clean and create,

– Jay

Photo by Tim McLaren on Flickr