Clean your desk.

Sounds like an odd tip for better writing. But stay with me.

Imagine you’re about to write a policy memo to your staff. You lift the file folders off of your chair and set them on the floor, then sit down at your cluttered desk (which your colleagues call “Mount Stackapaper”).

You remember that one of the files you just set on the floor has an important letter you need to read before this afternoon’s conference call. You remind yourself to dig out that letter as soon as possible.

Next you push aside a small pile of notebooks blocking your mouse, and you realize one of them has your notes from the morning’s staff meeting, which you need to type up and distribute. Note to self: do that after the policy memo… no, wait, after you read that letter in the file on the floor.

You grab your mouse, open a blank document on your word processor, and begin thinking of a title for your policy memo. But then you spot a series of sticky notes affixed to your monitor. One of them reminds you to “CALL JANICE RE: OPEN ENROLLMENT QUESTION!” Note to self: call Janice, then find notes in notebook, then read the letter that’s somewhere on the floor.

The clutter around your workspace is sending you a constant stream of reminders and obligations and distractions. The mess is keeping you from being able to focus fully on your current task: writing that policy memo.

Even if you manage to complete a draft, what are the chances it will be as good as it could be? Not very good, because you’ll have written it over the constant, distracting noise of your office clutter.

Contrast that scenario with sitting down to write at a completely clean desk. You pull up your chair and see only your monitor, mouse and keyboard in front of you. You take a deep breath and begin focusing on just one thing: policy memo. That ability to focus, that clarity in your mind about the task at hand, means you are going to write a better document.

Related suggestion: A clean, organized workspace is ideal for writing time. But if you can’t clear the clutter, and you can’t find a clean space for writing, use someone else’s desk. Their clutter might be annoying, but it won’t mean anything to you, so it won’t be as distracting as your own.