Whether it’s at the office or at home, your desk is the command center of your work (and often personal) life. It can support you in reaching your goals and keeping your life on track…or it can be a source of stress in itself! If the idea of an organized desk feels good to you, read on for Ten Tips to a Happy Desk.
Prep: Have an empty wastebasket and a recycling container handy for trash and recyclables.
Step #1: Clear it Off
So, you are at your desk, staring at piles of paper, pens, and business cards you collected at your last networking event. Where to start? Start with a sort. Utilize the floor area around your desk to clear your desktop. Once the desktop is clear, clean it off so it’s dust-free and ready to use as a sorting surface.
Step #2: Sort & Purge
Now, pick up one pile of paper. Go through each document and assign it to a pile using R.A.F.T.: Recycle, Act, File, Toss. Create these categories by writing each of them on a separate sticky note, then sorting the papers under the appropriate sticky note. Once you are through the paper piles, sort and purge your writing utensils and other supplies. Ask yourself how many staplers you really, truly need. Be brutal. Keep only what you need and use at your desk, then donate the rest to coworkers or a local school.
Step #3: Label it
Use a simple (or high-tech, if you prefer!) label maker to create labels for your files. Using a label maker will make it easy to find what you need fast. If you’d rather label by hand, use all capitals for your labels and be consistent with the color and size of the text. Cohesive labeling is easier on the eyes and brain when you are searching for something. You can also label “homes” for your items (see Step #5).
Step #4: Decide what stays and what goes (into a drawer)
If you prefer a clean desktop, do your best to keep it that way—store items in drawers and filing cabinets. If you like to keep a few frequently-used items on your desk, do that. I keep a timer and a candle on my desk and my supplies in drawers.
Step #5: Designate a ‘Home’ for Everything
What does it mean for everything to have a ‘home’? It just means to decide on one place you will always keep your _____, so when you go looking for it, you can find it quickly.
Examples: all writing utensils go in a tray in your top drawer; all post-its and notepads go in your second drawer. Feel free to place a label on the desk that says “stapler” if you want your stapler to ‘live’ on the desk. There are no rules, just homes!
Step #6: Get an Inbox
Before there were emails, there were physical ‘In’ boxes! Use this blast from the past to collect papers that come your way throughout the week so they don’t clutter your desk. Designate a time each week when you will address the contents of the inbox. My desk is an Ikea table, and I like to keep the surface clear so I put my inbox on my file cabinet, which sits just to the right of my desk. I toss everything from bills to letters to flash drives in there, and being able to do so keeps me sane!
Step #7: Use Your Filing Cabinet
Organize the files in your file cabinet, however, best suits you. I like to use an alphabetical system, others like to file by topic or project. Whatever works for you, do that—just make sure to make time to create files, label them, and get them off your desk and into the cabinet. If you are an “out of sight out of mind” type, use open file boxes, bins, or crates on wheels so you can see your files at a glance. Some units have a file drawer along with a set of drawers for supplies, organizing two birds with one stone.
Step #8: Think Outside the (Space) Box
True, walls are for holding up the ceiling and delineating spaces…but they can also be used to declutter your desk! In addition to a basic desk, drawer unit (if your desk doesn’t have drawers) and a filing cabinet, utilize cork boards, magnetic boards, and dry erase boards to corral notes, ideas, photos, and mementos. You can also purchase file holders made specifically for walls.
Step #9: Put Your Office to Sleep Every Night
Desks are there for a reason; to catch stuff. Projects, mugs of coffee, rulers…if it’s office, work, or caffeine related, it will end up on your desk. That’s okay, and a messy desk is ok! Just tidy it up each night before you close up shop. You will stay on top of your clutter and provide a lovely, peaceful space for your future self to work in. Prevent tomorrow’s distractions by cleaning up tonight.
Step #10. Reflect
Take some time to reflect on how your organized desk/workspace has supported you. Do you feel calm, more productive, or more in control when you can find what you need quickly and easily? Does having open desk space feel better than a surface covered with papers? If so, congratulate yourself on your hard work, and make a mental note that the effort in getting organized was worth it. Appreciate your space, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and treat yourself to a fancy new pen (but declutter an old one, first!)