I walked into a client's office last week and she immediately apologised for the mess of her desk. Papers strewn everywhere, with overflowing box files lying around the floor. Her noticeboard was covered with scraps of paper on top of one another, and post-it notes stuck onto her monitor screen.

I said there was no need to apologise but I did wonder to myself how she could find anything when her desk was in such disorder, and how efficient was she at running her department. Afterwards, when we sat down for our meeting, it transpired that her life was, in fact, in turmoil, and the state of her desk was a reflection of her personal life.

Of course, I am not saying that an untidy desk is always indicative of an untidy mind as I have other clients who also work in what I regard as a ‘mess' but they know where every piece of paper is at any one time. Different people work differently.

My own style is to have on my desk only those papers that I will be working on during that day, otherwise my desk-top is clear. My secretary knows to add other paperwork into my in-tray on a side desk, unless of course it is urgent, and then they get put on my desk.

I find that desks and offices are very often like rooms and homes. They tend, over time, to become cluttered with files, papers, correspondence and other items that are way past their "use by date" and should have been thrown out, or filed, many months ago.

Closest space

I wonder when the last time was that you went through the drawers in your desk? We tend to use these as a "dumping ground" but in reality they should be valued as our closet space for the convenient storage and access to frequently needed items. Instead, they are very often used as receptacles for dried-out pens and highlighters that no longer write, staplers that don't work, half-used AA batteries and maybe some fruit pastilles or other sweets from last year,

Your desk and office should be laid out ergonomically so that if you are continually having to jump up to get a piece of equipment, fetch stationery or look for files, then these should be repositioned so that you can reach them more easily. You might need an extra shelf, a second tier to your filing tray, just to keep things to hand. But the result will be to make you more efficient — and maybe also less stressed!

Many office workers find that by acquiring some plastic storage containers they can expand easy access to documents and files for just a small amount of money. Take into account your working style. Some people need to have items on their desk that stimulate them while others will want a more simple desk top, with maybe a small family picture. It's a matter of personal choice.

In my office we colour-code all plastic document wallets for spec-ific projects so that it is easier for me to find any particular file in seconds. For example, next month I will be presenting at the prestigious 1st Global Woman Summit in Washington DC, and I am able to find any of my files relating to this project instantly. As for email addresses, names and phone numbers should always be able to be accessed either online or in hard copy in a second.

Then we come to the screen in front of you, and your noticeboard. Are they neat and tidy or are there post-it notes that should have been taken down months ago and you can't even remember why they are there?

A potted, green leaved plant could improve the oxygen in the air of your office to give you a sense of wellbeing. When I was in Dubai last month, I went into a colleague's office where she had a lovely green plant that she had nurtured from a small seedling and it was a joy to see the pleasure that she experienced because she had watched the plant grow.

Personally, I believe that a tidy desk will improve your efficiency and make your working time more enjoyable.

The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact them for proven stress strategies — www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk

key points

  • Your office layout should help you work efficiently.
  • A potted green leaved plant can improve oxygen in the air.
  • Colour-coding your files can save invaluable time.