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You are your desk (or at least I am my desk)


I have a problem. There I said it.

This is my problem- my comps (comprehensive/qualifying exam) are nearing and I must say my desk is a little out of control. I always thought there was a method to my madness, but there really isn’t. I normally have a somewhat tidy work space, but this is getting out of hand now! This desk issue is something that has to be dealt with.

Although, it might not be comps time for everyone, I think there are stressful times in our careers as grad students (preparing for a committee meeting, a defense, even a really big project or maybe a conference presentation) where we just let certain things go. Maybe you don’t cook for a month and survive solely on Tim Horton’s and pizza. Or maybe you don’t do any laundry and show up to school in pajama pants and that sweater collecting dust in your closet that is probably old enough to be a family heirloom. For me, it’s my desk.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately and I think your desk is a reflection of how you deal with things. I tend to pile stuff on my plate until it is at capacity, then start tackling problems, get bored or frustrated and move onto a new one, leaving the previous one unfinished. My desk is a 3D, real life reflection of this – I just keep piling it on until it’s out of control and nothing can be done.  So I figured I’d blog about this journey of self-exploration, from realizing that my desk really is a reflection of some of my worst habits to addressing these problems, finding solutions and moving forward.

Problem #1: PILES – To the untrained eye, the pile you see below might just look like random books and papers strewn around. About a week ago I would have disagreed with you 100%. I thought these piles were an excellent system, I really did. And then reality hit me. In the pile below, on top is my species list (from project #1…wait #3…wait, is that from my MSc?), then an old time sheet from someone I had working with me over a year ago (uh oh… hope that wasn’t important), then my lab notebook, and the manual of vascular plants. For the last month or so, whenever I need something I start by looking where I think it is…shocker-it’s never there. Then I start going through every pile, moving things around, making an even bigger mess, until I find it. Clearly, this is a problem.


Piles, piles, piles!

Solution #1: PILES WORK– if you are careful and stick to those piles. Piles don’t work if you have a habit of throwing stuff from one place to another and aren’t willing to maintain them. Over the past few days, I have moved to a new system of file folders and binders with dividers. Who would have thought, this organization stuff really does come in handy! We (like I’m sure many other labs/offices on campus) have countless old, used binders and folders lying around so why not put them to good use. This has improved my studying efficiency immensely! I have folders for read papers,unread papers and read papers I’ll never understand, and am (trying) to keep all of my other notes/stuff in one designated area.



Problem #2: POST IT NOTES – I love post it notes. In fact, I am obsessed with post it notes. I make notes about everything and put them anywhere and on anything. Half of them get lost, stuck to the bottom of my shoe or just added to the endless pile of other old post it notes. The main problem is that I hate to get rid of them. They tend to accumulate everywhere and then the whole point of using these handy tools goes out the window.


So many post-its!

Solution #2: POST IT NOTES WORK – IF YOU USE THEM PROPERLY – I had to tell myself “No, Amanda. No… you won’t need the tracking number for the package you ordered a year ago. You have the package already. No, you also won’t need a To-Do list from 2012…if you haven’t done it now, you never will.” I made a new rule for myself. When I write something on a post it, it’s gone by the end of the week. It’s hard. But I shall do my best! This has also helped me nail down the important things I have to do. I’m much less overwhelmed having only a couple of them around. And to be honest, throwing them out is a little rewarding!

Problem #3: CLUTTER – Yet another problem I have is that my desk ends up cluttered with, not only Starbucks cups, but as you can see, Subway cups, Tim Horton’s cups (not shown, I tend to throw those across the room when I lose on Roll up the Rim, which is always) among a whole slew of mugs, plates, and cutlery. I also have a good selection of clothes in my office: sweaters, shirts, even pants, socks, two pairs of mittens and more. Those who know me well also know I keep some really strange items around my desk: 7 crock pots (yes…seven), a space heater, every piece of Tupperware I own, even a sewing machine.030


A little preview of my clutter


Solution #3: DE-CLUTTER – Ok, so the sewing machine was actually for my project. And the crock pot was for a departmental event… I don’t actually think I need those things – and that’s just the point – I don’t! I decided to get rid of everything that I didn’t need. I didn’t throw it away or anything- I just put it out of sight and out of mind. I did take some of my wardrobe home and it was nice having some Tupperware handy when I packed my lunch this morning! Having a clean, organized work space has helped me clear my mind, organize my thoughts and improved my productivity. It’s only been a week so there’s no saying how long this will last, but I will try my hardest!

Is anyone else out there struggling with this issue or a similar one? Have any suggestions for maintaining a clean work space during those busier times of the year? Let me know in the comments below!



I also just wanted to give a quick shout out to Queen’s Cuts for Cancer which is happening in front of the AMS office in the JDUC this Thursday and Friday (Mar 6 and 7) from 10AM – 3:30 PM. They are looking for participants who are willing to help fundraise by cutting their hair or shaving their heads! All money raised will be sent to the Canadian Cancer Society to use wherever the need is greatest, and the hair goes to Angel Hair for Kids, a Canadian and local organization that makes wigs for children who have been affected by cancer or have other types of hair loss. They make sure that no child with need goes without, and can have a childhood with less stigma and discrimination. For more information about this event contact: Bonnie at 8bl25@queensu.ca. 


Posted in All, Events, General, New Students, Student Perspective, Thesis, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , ,
One comment on “You are your desk (or at least I am my desk)
  1. Colette Steer says:

    HI Amanda
    OH when it comes to piles of work I love it! But you are right, they need to be organised. I try to make a point at the end of the week, to re-look at what is on my desk. If I am not actually working on it, then it goes away.

    One solution to add to your filing system is a month by month files. If you need to get cracking on something by a certain date, then put it in the month you need to start it.

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