Designers Sue Fan and Danielle Quigley share 4 simple steps to a calmer and more productive workspace.

The Do Book Company
Feb 1 · 5 min read

We all do it. Piles of receipts, books we haven’t read, things we’ve collected but just can’t get rid of because of some attachment we can’t shake. As the digital world continues to expand, we are now not only fighting clutter with physical objects, but digital ones as well. Notifications, emails, text messages … the more our brain has to filter, the less effective it is for doing.

A Princeton University Neuroscience Institute study found people with cluttered homes experience greater exhaustion and stress. The chaos restricted their ability to focus and limited their brain’s ability to process information. Even the awareness of clutter can wear down your mental state, leading to frustration and poor decision-making.

Clutter — and our threshold for it — means something different for everyone. The start of another year presents a fresh opportunity to keep your workspace (and life) as clear and clutter-free as reasonably possible.


Try these simple solutions to keep things from piling up:

1. Organise your emails and computer desktop daily

Set aside a specific time to check email. Unless you have a job that requires you to be on call at every moment, you’ll be far more productive and focused if you fix a set amount of time (e.g. first thing in the morning, after lunch, before the end of the day) to sort, organise and respond to emails. In almost all mailboxes, there are options to colour-code or prioritise or filter email into folders. Take the time to unsubscribe from junk mail, move emails into a folder that will need eventual responses, and respond to urgent requests. Set an automatic response if you would prefer only to check (and be expected to respond) once a day.

Just like your email, at the end of your workday, it is a great idea to sort through your computer and make sure you delete unnecessary files, move everything into specific folders and complete a backup of the work you did that day.

2. Create a daily and weekly timeline

Setting a loose (or tight) schedule is a great way to increase productivity. What are your tasks for the day? Do you have important deadlines to hit? It’s important to keep an updated calendar. Choose a planner or calendar that works for you (digital or paper). Do you need something portable, where you can jot ideas and reminders down? If it’s digital, do you want notifications and for it to merge lists, tasks and appointments? Do you want a wall or desk calendar you can constantly look at? Whatever you do, be fair to yourself and make sure your timeline targets are realistic.

3. Use small storage spaces

Consuming less is always helpful. Try to take the time to put things away into their respective places. Have a receipt box, a paperwork box, an office supplies box. Be creative here by using well-designed boxes or wooden drawers as storage. Decide what you need to have to hand and find clever places to keep everything organised (paper clips, colour-coded folders, wire baskets, file boxes).

4. Leave things tidy

A few minutes spent tidying at the end of the day will pay dividends. If you take the time to clean up before you leave, it will be a more welcoming and productive space to walk into the next day. This goes hand in hand with the previous three solutions. The key is to be mindful of a mess (this applies to all aspects of life).

As most of us know, clutter can gather anywhere in your home. Here’s some stylish storage tips to help you master the rest of your home.

A Place for Everything

If your house is filled to the brim with stuff, it will feel overwhelming. Things need their place. If there is no place for it, assess if it’s something you actually need. It’s worth going through your belongings each season and deciding if unnecessary things are taking up valuable space. Take one room at a time and consider each item in it and its worth. Ask yourself if it’s useful, meaningful or if it simply makes you happy.

It’s all too easy to throw something into a drawer and never think about it again. We have drawers with junk, but it’s organised junk. And we like to think it’s not actually junk. Use small boxes and jars in your drawers to organise items that get collected over time (rubber bands, paper clips, pens, stamps, push pins, batteries, cords) and keep them in their designated places. Keep things you use all the time or emergency items handy — a pad of paper and pen on the counter, a small attractive metal box that sits by a door with screwdrivers, flashlights and matches.

As for storage, it’s all about baskets. The wide range in price and size are what make these the most useful storage solution in any home. You can find them in cardboard, fabric, metal, wood, sea grass, in any assortment of colours and patterns. They are amazing ways to clean up a shelf, a closet, a sidetable or a corner. They are attractive side by side or on their own, old or new, and can be constantly repurposed for another space or use.


Your stuff doesn’t define you, but it can easily take over. Storage and keeping your spaces clutter-free will always be a continuous battle. Be gracious with yourself for being human. Having your space feel perfect is one thing. Having it actually be perfect is something else entirely. Let’s focus on feeling.


Sue Fan and Danielle Quigley are the co-founders of Wild Habit, an interior design company based in New York and Southern California. Together they have created installations for large corporations, restaurants, studios, and homes. They have styled for the Do Lectures Wales and USA, and continue to run their Wild Habit store in Oceanside, California.


Extract from Do Inhabit: Style your space for a creative and considered life by Sue Fan and Danielle Quigley. Copyright © 2018 Sue Fan, Danielle Quigley. Published by The Do Book Co.

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Do Book Company

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Do Book Company

Publishing books to encourage and inspire

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