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How-To: Organize Your Desk

Although Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman's book A Perfect Mess claims that there are hidden benefits to being unorganized and cluttered, I'm not sure I'm a believer, and I stand by the aesthetic reasons for being organized. So, I thought I'd give you a few tips on streamlining your workspace that seem to have helped me out. I know that many of you are super organized already, so this is for the rest of you!

  • First and foremost, rely on a computer filing system. Save your documents on your hard drive and back them up. Keep your computer organized as one would a filing cabinet. Scan your paper documents and save them to your hard drive, then recycle them.
  • Say no to paper. Only print out paperwork if it's completely necessary. If you do print something out, recycle it once you've completed the task you used it for.
  • Ditch the pens. You shouldn't have more than three pens, a pencil, and if needed, a marker, at all times. Once you have them, don't be tempted to add to the collection by stealing from your hotel or office supply closet. Leave your writing utensils at your desk; don't carry them away with you in your purse.

To hear more of these organization tips,


  • Kick Post-Its to the curb. Post-its look messy and are easy to lose track of. Keep a notebook on your desk, next to your keyboard instead, and get in the habit of using it. If you use it every day, you're bound to see your reminders written down.
  • Build a system to manage your paper. If everything has a place, you won't need to search for it. Whether you use file folders, letter trays, accordion files, or L.L. Bean tote bags, delegate a location for each type of paperwork you have. That means, an inbox, an outbox, an on-hold box, a reference file, files for active projects, files for finished projects, and of course, have a recycling bin or shredder on hand.
  • Maintain a time frame. Find a way to categorize your inbox by day, week, and month. That way, your work each day will have a better shot of getting done, and you'll have a sense of how productive you are. If you're not ready to handle your paperwork, or not sure how to deal with it, put it in your on-hold box.
  • Keep books on your bookshelf. Bookcases, not desks, were invented for the sole purpose of storing your books. So, use them! Keep your books off of your desk unless you are actually, physically reading them. Read my how-to on organizing your books for more tips.
  • Your desk is not a dining table. Don't eat at your desk. Ever. And keep your lunch, silverware, etc. off of it as well. You can keep one glass of water or coffee, etc. there, but only one.
  • Display your photos on your computer. Nix the family photo frames, and opt instead for a rotating slideshow of personal photographs on your computer, or choose your favorite photo to use on your desktop background. Frames just add clutter, which we're trying to lose here.
  • Schedule digitally. Use your computer calendar or PDA to schedule meetings, etc. Ditch your ratty planner. Set alarms to remind you of important dates.
  • Tidy up. Take five or 10 minutes at the end of each day to tidy up your work space, making sure all of your papers are in the appropriate files, and then everything is set up for the next day. Wipe down your desk at the end of each week with a damp cloth to keep dust from accumulating. Jot down reminder notes in your notebook if you have any.


Join The Conversation
stephcorinn stephcorinn 9 years
I just check 3M's web site to see whether Post-it's were recyclable or not. Apparently, almost all recycling places will recycle them as long as they recycle mixed use paper. Here's the link to the web site with the info: The idea that Post-it's weren't recyclable was really bothering me because I use SO many of them. So this makes me feel better. :)
Advah Advah 9 years
My life is attached to post-it notes. I tried using them less because of you can't really recycle them (because of the sticky part), but I ended up forgetting stupid little things. Although I found a pretty cool A4 notebook in our stationary cupboard yesterday, that'll hopefully make it way easier to be organised than the stupid shorthand notebooks I've been battling with since I started working here.
missgnav missgnav 9 years
I try to keep the post-its away, because I can use them excessively. My workplace stopped buying post-its and now supplies us with these great company mini-notebooks and I use them for everything. To-do lists, recipes, notes, ideas, etc. I paper clip coupons, receipts, schedules, and everything on it. One thing I will never stop doing: eating at my desk. Time is a luxury I can't afford to lose!
okmaebe okmaebe 9 years
I have a desk at home, but with my new laptop lifestyle, I'm actually shipping it out! I've not turned on my PC since January, and it's time for spring purge. I emptied it out yesterday, and it's going away ASAP! I've got new fileboxes, and I'm ready to rock and roll!
emalove emalove 9 years
My desk at work is always neat...everyone at work always teases me because I'm obsessive about tidying it up. My desk at home is also pretty neat. I hate clutter and I cannot work if there's papers everywhere.
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
The notebook instead of post its is a great idea.
Home Home 9 years
Ha, okay Haze, I will let you know when I'm in your neighborhood! And drinkerofh2o, that's a good point. Crossing tasks out once they've been completed does make it easy to see what's up to date! RosaDilla, it's funny that you say your boss will think you have no work to do if you're tidy. I hadn't looked at it that way, but it's a valid point!
drinkerofh2o drinkerofh2o 9 years
I completely agree about using a notebook instead of post its. I write down to-do items in black or blue, and then cross them out in red when I'm done. Makes it very easy to scan through the notebook for what's up to date.
JaimeLeah526 JaimeLeah526 9 years
Great tips. I love this. Very minimalistic.
jessy777 jessy777 9 years
I use all of these step except digital planners. I do not think I will ever get rid of my paper and pencil planner. I have tried but end up loosing things or forgetting things when I went digital. It is easier for me to hold something in my hands and look through it. I am not a big fan of most technology in general and doubt my planner will ever go that way. Everything is great and how I keep my space (home and office) organized.
ella1978 ella1978 9 years
I'm an architect, and not only do I have a lot of paper, but I have a lot of drawings! I don't have enough room at my desk for all that I have. I'd love to be organized.. but often, it doesn't happen. Maybe I'll get inspired today though...
lizrocks lizrocks 9 years
I can't work in a cluttered environment so I'm always straightening my desk in between each assignment. Good tips all around. Though I do find post-its handy for making non-permanent notes on files (as in "will come by to pick up Friday" and "called, left message 4/30 @ 2PM").
RosaDilia RosaDilia 9 years
If I organize my desk too much It would make my boss think that I don't have much work to do. I do tidy up at the end of the day though.
cookie23 cookie23 9 years
I think I would have separation anxiety if i got rid of my post it notes!!!
SkinnyMarie SkinnyMarie 9 years
only 3 pens? ohhh thats impossible here. I have different pens for different moods and different paper types.
UrbanBohemian UrbanBohemian 9 years
My former employer was a STICKLER for tidy desks that were devoid of any clutter or personal identity....but hers was always a mess and she had pictures of her son all overd! That said, I do appreciate these tips because I know how a clean desk produces a polished, together image. Thank you Casa!
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