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, read more.

  • 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.

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