The typical civilian conjures up images of jumping from airplanes, kicking in doors to find bad guys, and flying jets at Mach speed when thinking of military life. The truth is that these activities make up only a small portion of day-to-day activities for the typical soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine. In fact, daily work responsibilities are not that different between military personnel and civilians.

Just like civilians, many service members spend hours sitting behind desks. They shuffle papers, answer phone calls and emails, and work on the computer like everyone else. And just like civilians, the workspaces of military members become disorganized and messy.

What do cluttered and chaotic workstations have to do with mental health? Experts report that those of us who maintain unkempt workspaces suffer from higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who keep things neat and organized.

A few tips for policing your workspace:

1. Make a clean sweep. Sometimes you just have to start over. Find a large box, bin or trash can and sweep everything off your desk into it. I’m not asking you to throw anything away ... yet. Just turn your desk into a blank slate.

Once your desk is clean, take a step back and visualize how you’d like it to be. Next, take one thing out of your chosen receptacle and strategically place it back on your desk. Continue rebuilding the workspace one piece at a time, and as you pull out each object, whether it is a stapler or stack of papers, ask yourself, “Does this need to be on my desk?”

2. Toss, shred or recycle. It’s safe to assume that a sizable portion of the papers, notes and receipts on your desk serve no real purpose other than to make your desk seem cluttered. Decide what should be thrown out, recycled or shredded.

But don’t just stick a “to be shredded or recycled” box under your desk: Perform those actions immediately. If you don’t, you’ve done nothing more than move the mess from one spot to another.

3. Build a filing system. Sorry, but just putting stuff in a drawer is not filing. You need to develop a sensible system. Create folders and label them clearly. Sort projects and documents by due date, completion status or importance.

And about those drawers: Keep only essential items in them. Plastic spoons, broken paper clips, sugar packets and discarded pennies have other places they can hang out.

A daily sweep will help prevent a stress-inducing mess at your work station. (skarie20/Getty Images)
A daily sweep will help prevent a stress-inducing mess at your work station. (skarie20/Getty Images)

4. Do a daily once-over. When it’s all said and done, if you don’t spend a few minutes tidying up at the end of the day, you are likely to end right back up where you started. Make putting things away the last thing you do before you leave the office.

It’s true that being productive requires more than a neat and tidy desk. But if you can’t find your phone or computer under a stack of papers or a tower of folders, then no degree of hard work or dedication will keep you on track to a productive workday.

Bret A. Moore, Psy.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. He is the co-author of “The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook.” This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey specific psychological or medical guidance.