Office Desk Organizing, Japanese Style.

Modern office desk philosophies vary from “creative chaos” to the antiseptically clean, and ordinarily, you’ll find little agreement between employees on the best system to use. And then the Japanese came along: Japanese businesses have crystallized an organizing philosophy for every office desk that bears a closer look.

It’s called the “5S” system – a deceptively simple name for a comprehensive workplace organization methodology that’s taken the office world by storm.  Implemented correctly, 5S fosters effective workplace organization, simplifies the workplace environment, reduces waste, and improves work quality all over the office.

The “S” refers to the Japanese words that name each system, which Western implementors have translated with an equivalent English word beginning with “S”: sorting (seiri), or putting things in order; straightening (seiton), or arranging items properly; systematic cleaning or shining (seiso); standardizing (seiketsu), or maintaining a mindset that promotes constant cleanliness; and sustaining (shitsuke), or commitment to the process.

Sorting (seiri) is the practice of eliminating unnecessary tools and systems from every office desk, keeping only materials deemed essential to work. What you do keep should be prioritized depending on the requirement, and kept within reach as needed. This saves time for the average employee – seiri cuts down on time spent searching for necessary tools by removing clutter.

The elimination process doesn’t have to be done outright; a 5S practitioner might “tag” items on her office desk, adding a red tag with a use-by date on items that may prove useful in the future. If the use-by date passes without the object being used, then into the waste bin it goes. (Read more)

Staying Put at Your Office Desk Can be Dangerous to Your Health.

Your body was made to move, not sit immobile behind an office desk. Billions of years of evolution have predisposed your innards to constant motion, presuming that your life depends on hunting down game or ranging over acres of vegetation picking berries.

Only in the past hundred years or so did urban humanity largely settle down to sedentary lives – normal to our modern selves but absolutely abnormal to bodies designed for constant motion. Office desk bound workers open themselves up to the following modern illnesses:

Heart disease. According to a study reported in Men’s Health, employees who sit for long hours endanger their heart health – even if they’re “exercising couch potatoes”, as Marc Hamilton, Ph.D. puts it.

A study of the lifestyle habits of some 17,000 men and women revealed that those who sat for most of the day were 54% more likely to have heart problems as those who rarely sat. And it didn’t matter how much the sedentary individuals weighed or how much they worked out.

Musculoskeletal disorders. A wide range of structural problems are called “musculoskeletal disorders”, which often strike office desk-bound workers who have to make repetitive actions, progressively injuring their bodies over time. These are often not noticed until much later, because these disorders involve tiny effects that accumulate over time.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a good example – placing hands in unnatural positions for extended periods of time create a ticking time bomb for an office desk worker’s wrists.

These are expensive problems for employers – work-related musculoskeletal disorders claims in Washington State, from 1997 to 2005, cost the government over $4 billion in benefits, and lost over 23.7 million work days.

Addressing Health Hazards From Your Office Desk

Luckily, the office desk is no impediment to addressing these problems. The problem lies in remaining sedentary behind one’s office desk for hours at a time – the good news is that you can be in motion even without leaving your place.

Yoga techniques can be performed by office desk-bound workers – these chair yoga techniques allow the body to go into restorative poses, relaxing sore muscles and releasing spine tension. (Cool bonus – you don’t have to sit behind your office desk to do these poses, you can also execute these from a train or in a bus.)

Ergonomic office furniture can also address these health hazards, taking care of the musculoskeletal disorder side of the equation. An ergonomic office desk, for example, needs to permit enough legroom for workers to adjust their leg posture. Above the desk, the working surface ought to be low enough to permit a 90-degree angle of the elbow. (The American Society of Safety Engineers offers a helpful ergonomics tips sheet that includes this tip plus many, many more.)

Health breaks aren’t just excuses to shirk, they may just save your life in the long run. Leave your office desk from time to time, taking breaks from repetitive tasks like typing. Stand up and stretch, straighten your fingers, and look at objects in the distance to give your eyes a refreshing pause from staring at nearby computer monitors.

With these precautions in place, you can keep your body healthy without having to return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle your body was designed for. (Good thing too – mammoths are pretty hard to track down from the comfort of your office desk!)