Motivation: clean your desk!

I have always had a romantic vision of the perfect workspace: piled up on a dick wooden table, dozens of books bought in used secondhand bookshops, a notebook lighted up by the dim and dusty glow of an old-fashioned lamp that isolates you from the rest of the world and let the rest of the room vanish into obscurity.

I studied in Paris, where some ancient libraries exactly give this sort of atmosphere that makes you feel unique, superior and inspired. If you have watched the film 「舟を編む」, I can say that Majime’s home is the perfect incarnation of what I try to describe. This is certainly one of the reasons why I loved this film (and the novel) so much.

But now, I just couldn’t work in a confined and dark space anymore… today it triggers anxiety more than the desire to study. I now like a clean desk with a simple, organised layout and a bright room. Space and light help me stay positive. But I may have cultivated a tendency to let the stationery occupy as much space as it pleases, and every time my desk gets messy, my motivation also tends to sink. This is why cleaning, not only my desk but the whole apartment too, though not an occupation that I enjoy, has proved to be necessary to help me stay motivated to self-study.

State of mind and environment

There are times when I don’t feel at all like learning Japanese or studying vocabulary. This loss of motivation has nothing to do with my target language: I still love Japanese, and I still want to read fluently in this language. It has to do with my own mental state, and I know that it is significantly influenced by my environment. For example, I always feel uneasy when the sun shines because I feel like I should go out instead of staying at home, but when the rain is pouring down, I feel serene because reading a book at home really is the best option for the day.

The weather is not the only element that influences my mental state: my desk, the whole room and even the whole apartment.

This is why I always clean my desk when I don’t feel the motivation to work. First, having a cleaned workspace makes me want to use it. Second, if I don’t feel like studying, it is best to do something useful like cleaning the house than just staring at my computer or lose time on the Internet. And finally, tidying up and cleaning bring a feeling of accomplishment that also helps feeling better.

To start the week with a fresh and positive state of mind, I try to clean my desk on Sunday evening. I put on the shelves the books and pens that I am not using at the moment, get rid of old memos and random notes that are not useful anymore, clean the numerous coffee stains and so on. The only things that are allowed to lie around are the ones I use on a daily basis. I have two small storage bags on my desk where I put the books and pens I use from time to time.

My Workspace

Things that lie on my desk vary depending on what or how I am studying. At the moment, there is:

  • My laptop. I use it, among other things, to study Anki, write this blog and draw things to illustrate my posts. I started drawing when I got my Surface Pro 4 two years ago. I know that my drawing abilities are limited, but I enjoy drawing very much, I find it relaxing, I can do it while listening to a Japanese or English audiobook and it is a new way of expressing oneself.
  • The book I am reading at the moment. I often read several books at the same time, but there is always one main novel. This is the one that lies on my desk, the others are neatly lined up in one storage bag. The main novel also has a book cover. Japanese book covers are an item that I like more than I can say, they are beautiful, protect your book from damage (and additionally, prevent other people to see what you read, in case), and usually comes with a ribbon bookmark.
  • My Lamy fountain pen. I only use my fountain pen to write, so having just it on my desk is enough. I occasionally need colours or markers, for example, when I study the Asahi keywords book. That’s why they are all together in one of my storage bags.
  • マイブック, an empty book published by 新潮文庫 where I write in Japanese. Sometimes, I am not motivated to write so I just head to some book reviews in Japanese and write down useful sentences or expressions that I could use myself one day, maybe.
  • A new notebook that I use to collect Japanese names. I don’t use it every day, but as it is new, I want to make sure I go on with it. If I put it on a shelf, I might forget that I made this good resolution and stop it all together. If I see my notebook every time I sit at my desk, I remember that I have to write down the Japanese names I come across.
  • My bullet journal. To be honest, I am slowly migrating to another system: using a simple agenda that shows the whole week on a double page, with enough space to write down my bullet list for each day. This agenda lies open on my desk the whole day. I still need to settle myself into one system.
  • If I am studying textbooks, they are generally on my desk. Right now, I am with the Cambridge series for English learners (Idioms, Collocations and Phrasal Verbs).
  • My Casio electronic dictionary, that I use to read novels in Japanese and write this blog in English. I bought it for the Japanese dictionaries, but I am using the whole Oxford series that is in it maybe even more than the Japanese ones. (I just want to mention it again, but if you are learning both Japanese and English, an electronic dictionary can become your best friend).
  • My cat.


I don’t like spending time cleaning the room because I could spend this time learning Japanese or doing other things for self-improvement. But I can’t deny that I work better in an organised, clean workspace. This being said, everyone is different, and I can well imagine that some of us are working better on a busy desk, as I once did. But, if you feel that you are not particularly motivated to study today, why not try to give your desk a minimalist touch?

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My English notebook

The rain pours down or the rain comes down in sheets or sheets of rain come pouring down or it pours down with rain…?  😮 Maybe I should just write “when it rains”…

Still mixing those two, but somehow, Japanese is helping:

  • Lie (lies, lying), lay, lain: 横になる
  • Lay, laid, laid: 横にする