Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Cleanliness Is Next To Something–But I Can’t Find Either Of Them Right Now

A typical workspace just like yoursThis is an edit note: I’ve had several people email me to ask if this is or was my office! No, it was meant as a joke! If you put your mouse over it, you’ll see the caption.¬† I now know that many readers are very literal! ūüôā

Many of us have work areas that don’t represent us in the best possible way. (If you studied the post a few days ago, you know all about the concept of re-presenting. In this case, your work space presents you to other people as though you were using it as an introductory visual aid. Scary, huh?) Read these thoughts and consider them, then¬†spend just ten minutes making some changes and improvements in your work space. You’ll feel better about it, and your work space will more positively represent you to those you supervise and those who supervise you.¬†

I won’t bother you with Spring cleaning tips about the value of having a small paint brush to get dust out of corners in your desk drawers–that’s why you have paper clips and Kleenex. Instead, I want to mention some things based on what I have noticed when visiting offices,¬†modular office spaces (cubicles) and work areas.¬† If I’ve visited you in the last few months and a description sounds like your work area,¬† it is purely accidental, and I’m talking about someone else’s office.

1. Walk out of your work area, then walk back in, seeing it with the eyes of a visitor or an employee. Do some honest appraisal about how it appears to them and how it makes you appear to them. If you are really concerned, ask a friend to tell you what he or she thinks could be cleaned up, moved, put away or thrown away, or what could be added to it to help it represent you better. If anyone has ever joked about the appearance of your workspace, for any reason, that is a sure indicator that something needs to be changed. 

2. Evaluate the things you have on your desk, wall, modular surfaces or shelves and reduce the number of items if there is any chance that it looks cluttered or if any of the items are old, faded or simply have outlived their interest factor. Decide what significance each item has, and if it needs to be there.¬†If you have a collection of some kind, be ruthless in deciding how many of those items you want displayed. (Decide also,¬†if it is something by which you¬†want to be remembered.)¬†Consider making a rotating display so you can set some aside and move them out later. That makes your area more interesting to frequent visitors as well, if that’s what you are after.

If you have photos, put up new ones now and then or arrange them on one shelf.¬†Consider taking down anything you have taped on file cabinets or walls, and certainly take down anything that¬†is unprofessional it its contents. The old, faded, unoriginal “You want it when???” cartoon needs to go, and I think so¬†do the Dilbert cartoons that inspire cynicism and mockery. Don’t have anything taking up space and adding a distraction, unless it really contributes to your mental well-being or adds something positive to your work environment.¬†Even your “I Love Me” wall with certificates and plaques, if you have them, should be reviewed occasionally to see if the items should be rearranged, changed or replaced with other things.

Maybe your work space isn’t cluttered–maybe it is too bare and sterile looking.¬† You’d probably be amazed at how many people–including bosses–look in your work space when you’re not there. An executive once commented to me that the desk of one of his employees was just like the employee’s mind: Bare, blah and boring. There is a happy medium somewhere between over-crowded and sparsely cold. If all you have on your work surface is company-provided basics, consider just one or two colorful items. A small frame for a rotating quote or photo, a small, colorful glass dish for staples or similar supplies, a very nice coaster with a nice cup, an interesting book or similar items to show that you have personality. Having a photo of your boss in a heart-shaped frame is¬†probably¬†going a bit far.

3. Clean all surfaces and inside drawers. Turn your keyboard upside down and give it a shake if you want to see the history of your snacks in the last few weeks! Don’t just dust, use soapy water or a cleansing cloth. Wash off most items and shake papers over a trash can. Anything that sets out gets dusty, just as it does at home.

4. Decide what books and binders need to be displayed. Put the others in file drawers where you can get to them easily, or give them away. I don’t think it’s true that if you haven’t looked at¬†a book¬†for awhile you should automatically¬†get rid of it–sometimes it’s nice to have them on display so people think you read. However, you could probably eliminate several of them without any problem at all. As for the binders from classes or conferences, consider scanning the really useful material so you will have an electronic version, and giving away the binder contents to someone who could use it.¬†That way you not only eliminate some clutter, you become a resource for professional development.

5. Get an office box with a lid and use it to hold stuff and things you don’t have time to decide about right away.¬†Once a week or so, go through the box and decide what to do with the items.¬† You may find that most of it isn’t worth keeping. What is worth keeping will at least all be in one place until you can do something with it.

Those five ideas will get you started on making your work area present you in the most professional way possible. Think about it this way: If all anyone knew about you was what they could surmise by looking at your workspace, how would they picture you and what would they think of your professionalism, attention to detail, personality and overall effectiveness? Let your workspace show you at your best.

March 4th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 4 comments


  1. Where did you get the photo of my office? lol My cubicle is a dinky little modular thing but as you know from seeing it, I decided it was going to look as good as I could make it. So, how would you rate my workspace? DK

    Comment by denisek | March 5, 2008

  2. I think your workspace looks great! For readers: Denise DOES have a small modular space, surrounded by others. Some of those look fine too, but some are not so good and look either like college dorms or like empty spaces where everyone throws their junk! And some people had strong fragrances in their workspace, which really bothered my sinuses!

    Denise keeps her work area spotlessly clean. It really sparkles! She limits items on the top of her desk and even keeps her in-basket straightened, so papers aren’t stuck everywhere. She told me her goal was not to have a home-like look, but to have a very professional business look where she could focus both on work and where she wants her career to be one day soon.

    She has one small photo of her family, in a nice frame. (I think changing photos now and then helps, because it keeps them from becoming just background things that start going unnoticed–if you want them to be noticed.)

    Denise, I’d give your workspace a 10! Tina

    Comment by Tina | March 5, 2008

  3. Hi Tina, I’m so happy I discovered your blog (thanks to your lovely daughter). I’m totally convicted by this and sweeping my office as we speak – THANK YOU!

    Comment by Judith Thomas | March 10, 2008

  4. Judith, hello!!!! Thanks for the comment–although I can’t imagine your workspace being anything but perfect. Shannon admires you tremendously and thinks of you as a wonderfully organized person.

    And,I know you have a website:


    I’ll be sure to check it often and comment as well!
    Thanks again! Tina

    Comment by Tina | March 10, 2008

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