Here are twelve quick desk organization tips. These are things that have worked well for me and help me maintain an organized desk (most of the time). Most of them are probably applicable to others as well. If you have any desk organization tip suggestions of items to add please add them to the comments.
(Update: If you are interested in seeing my desk, checkout this post for photos.)
- Get rid of pens and pencils you don’t need. – I have one type of pen I like to use, but every month or so my pencil holder gets filled up with other random writing instruments. If you aren’t going to use it, don’t feel bad about throwing it out. It is just clutter. The less clutter you have, the closer you are to having an organized desk.
- Have a place for pocket stuff. Your keys, phone, PDA, wallet, bluetooth ear piece, etc. should have a home. My ideal setup is to keep them in a drawer with wires already run for charging the various items. Unfortunately my current desk doesn’t have drawers, so I have set aside a small amount of space under my monitor that isn’t really usable for work anyway. I have all my charging cables right there so I don’t have to hunt for them.
- Proximity based on frequency of use. This is the key organization tip for any type of organizing. If you use something every day, it should be closer than something you use only a few times each week. This is common sense, but it is easy to arrange are desk for aesthetics instead of usefulness. This helps you keep an organized desk because items are located closer to you based on the probability that you will use them so fewer items need to be moved around where they can become disorganized.
- Move electronics out of sight. Your cable modem, wireless router, firewall, battery backup, etc. shouldn’t be on your desk. Even if you have enough room in introduces visual clutter. Once again, cutting down on clutter reduces the amount of work between a messy desk and an organized desk. This organizational tip can go a long ways toward making your desk and office a much nicer place to work.
- Easy to access files. Without moving your chair or getting up, you should be able to grab an unused manila folder, label it and put it in your file cabinet. Easy filing is one of the most important organization tips. The more effort it requires the more difficult it will be to stay organized.
- Scanning documents. I have a scanner and I’ll turn important documents into PDFs and keep them on my computer. I use OCR so the documents are searchable. This is wonderful if you travel a lot because it keeps everything right there with you. The problem is trying to figure out what to scan and what can just be filed. If you are good at guessing what you’ll want to have electronically this can work very well. Keeping papers off your desk is an important part of desk organization.
- Cleaning supplies. Keeping an organized desk clean helps you maintain the organization. If you clean your desk with Windex and a paper towel, make sure you have some nearby. This will help encourage you to wipe down your work surface which will encourage you to clean it off more often. It is all about making things as easy for yourself as possible.
- Scratch notepad. During the course of the day, you will have telephone numbers, names, addresses, order confirmations, flight numbers, etc. If you can keep these all in one place, you’ll be far more productive if you need to look something up later. I have the bad habit of grabbing a nearby envelope and writing a telephone number on it. By keeping a notebook, specifically for these types of items, I don’t lose nearly as many things. The Franklin Planner method is to keep all of this info in the diary page of the planner which is probably an even better option.
- Organize those wires. It is easy to have half your desk covered with wires for various pieces of electronics. Moving some stuff off your desk can help. Some pieces of velcro wrapped around wires can go a long ways toward cleaning things up. Also make sure that you have wires that are long enough to tuck out of the way. If they are too short you won’t be able to arrange them neatly. Sometimes wireless is an option. With more and more devices supporting bluetooth and WiFi, you may be able to get rid of some wires simply by enabling the wireless settings. It is hard to keep an organized desk work surface when you are looking at a rats nest. Some desks are designed for running wires. I’ve been especially happy with Turnstone’s Bivi desk–especially after drilling a few extra holes in it.
- If you don’t have enough drawers. I used to have a large desk that was just a sheet of glass over a metal frame. While it looked really cool, it doesn’t allow much in the way of storage. To compensate, I brought in a dresser for storage. I also use bookshelves with a bunch of boxes with lids to help give me some more drawer like storage. I have a two drawer file cabinet that slides under my desk to help make better use of the space.
- Lighting. Make sure you have enough light on your desk. A bright work area is easier to keep clean than a dark one.
- Organize as you go. As we discussed the Iron Chef Fable, it is more efficient to stay organized as you work instead of trying to do it all at the end. You should be constantly working on keeping your desk neat. If it gets disorganized in the middle of a big project, take small steps. Clear a 1 foot by 1 foot area before you leave for the day. Make a small effort toward organization may not seem like much, but if you do it everyday, it will keep things headed in the right direction for you.
Originally published on April 12, 2007.