9 things you should never keep at your desk

A neat desk can help you feel more organized and productive.

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A neat desk can help you feel more organized and productive.
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Flickr/Matthew Pearce/Attribution license

  • Your desk should be organized in a way that maximizes productivity and your ability to perform tasks efficiently at work.
  • A cluttered, messy desk can negatively impact your ability to perform your job.
  • Here are nine things you should never keep at your desk.

Organization comes naturally to some, but for others, it’s just not in their nature. Maybe you’re too busy to clean up, or perhaps organized chaos works well for you.

Regardless, a messy desk can negatively impact productivity and your ability to perform tasks efficiently at work, according to a study published in The Harvard Business Review.

Additionally, some of the items you keep on your desk may not be appropriate for the workplace, such as political items or documents with sensitive information.

Whether your place of work is cubicle, corner office, or open layout, here are nine things you should never keep at your desk:


1. Lunch

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Taking a break is good for your productivity.
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Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock

You may think it’s wise to eat lunch at your desk, when in fact, it could actually hurt your productivity.

In a 2015 NPR article, Professor Kimberly Elsbach of the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management noted, “We know that creativity and innovation happen when people change their environment, and especially when they expose themselves to a nature-like environment, to a natural environment.”

“So staying inside, in the same location, is really detrimental to creative thinking. It’s also detrimental to doing that rumination that’s needed for ideas to percolate and gestate and allow a person to arrive at an ‘aha’ moment,” Elsbach said.


2. Dirty coffee mugs

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Toss empty coffee cups to avoid extra clutter.
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Jelena Danilovic/Shutterstock

Unwashed coffee mugs lying around can add clutter your workspace.

“It’s best to take a minute and leave your coffee mug in the kitchen immediately after usage,” Valli Vishnubhotla, digital PR manager at AW Media, told Business Insider.


3. Political items

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It may be a good idea to keep your political views separate from the office.
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Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

“Although everyone is entitled to their beliefs and opinions, your work colleagues may take umbrage to your political viewpoint,” business coach and entrepreneur Eugene Gamble told Business Insider.

This can lead to unnecessary work tension and conflict. Gamble suggested keeping your political views separate from the workplace.


4. Legal paperwork

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Keep legal documents out of sight.
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Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Laura Small, vice president and people director at advertising agency RPA, told Business Insider that workers shouldn’t leave out paperwork regarding any legal proceedings they may be involved in personally or at work.

“It’s more information than your colleagues are entitled to,” she said, and could reflect negatively on you, even if they misunderstand it.


5. Your cell phone

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Your phone can distract you, even if your turn notifications off.
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WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

This may be the most difficult for people to get behind.

“Most of what’s on our mobile devices are distractions from what will propel us forward,” Judge Graham, executive leadership expert, author, and entrepreneur, told Business Insider.

“I favor the old fashioned landline!” he said. “It allows me to be contacted for business purposes only, therefore only allowing my phone time to generate value for the business.”

A study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that your phone‘s mere presence can distract you, even if it’s on silent or powered off.


6. Sweets

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Keep sweets away from your desk to avoid temptation.
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Boiarkina Marina/Shutterstock

Avoid keeping cookies, candy, or chocolate at your desk if you’re trying to stay healthy.

It’s far too easy to go into autopilot and keep munching while you’re diverted by a task, especially during the usual early-afternoon slump,” Ben Taylor, founder of HomeWorkingClub, a resource for remote workers, told Business Insider.

“Whether you work in an office or at home, keep the high-calorie snacks in the kitchen or the break area, so you have to make a special effort to dig in,” he said.


7. Your resume

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This could be a sign to your boss that you’re thinking of leaving.
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Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design/Flickr/Attribution License

“Unless your company has announced a mass layoff and you are certain that your position will be eliminated, having a resume visible for everyone to see sends a clear message” that you are looking for a job, Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide,” said.

If your boss were to see it or hear about it, it could break their trust, which is hard to earn back, he said.


8. Plug-in air fresheners

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Not everyone may enjoy your favorite scent.
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New Africa/Shutterstock

Nobody wants a strong-smelling workplace, and some people may have allergies or prefer a fragrance-free environment.

“Plug-in air fresheners are a fire hazard and can be very distracting to your coworkers,” Jenn Watterman Moore, business consultant and coach, told Business Insider. “What you think smells great maybe unpleasant to your neighbor.”


9. Personal-care products

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Keep these tucked in a desk drawer or at home.
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Morgan/Attribution License/Flickr

“A toothbrush or mirror tucked in a drawer is fine, but leave the tweezers, nail clippers, deodorant, or major makeover supplies at home,” Small said. It can diminish how you are perceived professionally.