Desk space can be a precious commodity. So even if you're not the most organized of individuals (and no one says you absolutely have to be), you still should be picky about what has the right to be in front of you every day. This doesn't mean, though, that every item on your desk has to be completely functional. In fact, there are a select few items that, in my opinion, great leaders always should have present despite the fact you technically don't use them to work.
1. An inspirational piece
No, I'm not talking your standard desk calendar of mantras and quotes--digital "of the day" subscriptions can take care of those for you. I mean a small item that challenges you to be better, comes from a time of meaningful change or connects to your big picture "why" for working. For example, if a mentor used a game of chess to convey to you that each decision in your life influences the next and that it's critical to be future-minded, a single game piece can do the job. If someone asks about this piece, you always will have a lesson of value to share.
2. A personality item
It's all too easy for leaders to lose sight of who they are as they strive for specific objectives or try to keep ventures afloat. A personality item--for example, unicorn pens, a small figurine of Buddha, or even a stress-relief squeeze toy in the shape of Sigmund Freud's head (yes, I have one of these)--can remind you of the need for balance and reaffirm who you are off the clock. It can encourage you to let your guard down and allow your team to see all sides of you, as well.
3. A self-care tool
Self-care "tools" can be a handheld massager, fresh piece of fruit, timer or journal for meditation, bottle of aromatic essential oil or even a silly bobblehead toy that always makes you smile. The idea is, taking care of yourself and taking care of your business are inextricably linked. Having a physical reminder to nourish your mind or body as you work can encourage you not to overdo it and to set a good health example for those you lead.
4. A photo of people
Images of your family or mentors are always good choices here. But regardless of who the people in the picture are, a small photo of people who mean something to you serves as a strong reminder that, no matter what projects might be on your plate, work is always done for and by individuals, and work isn't all there is to life. Let these images remind you that connection matters and that you aren't alone when things are rough, even if you consider yourself more introverted.
Granted, some people don't want personal photos up for privacy reasons. If that's the case for you, simply find a photo or image that reminds you of the people who matter. For instance, as a gift, my husband once made a poster-sized version of Cartman from South Park sneezing, which still cracks me up. I can't help but think of him when I see it, and in terms of self-care, it's something that makes me happy--laughter is an incredible stress reliever, after all.
When it comes to selecting these items, you'll know that you've found the right pieces if looking at them always triggers the same strong path of thoughts for you, and if you feel more grounded with them in the space.
Remember, too, that you can make these items work without creating a huge footprint--you can set some photos as a screensaver sequence, for example, or you can turn that meaningful chess piece into a beautifully etched image on a glass desk topper. Get creative, but make sure your space always allows you to connect to yourself, others, how you've grown or can continue to grow, your health, and what motivates and challenges you.