How to Organize Your Desk
Desk organization can be overwhelming, but a few simple tips can get you on the right track. The important thing is to create a system for organizing your desk that helps you keep it that way long-term.
Here are 7 quick and easy tips to organize your desk (and keep it that way):
- Create a system to sort and store active paperwork
- Use portable storage for work that travels or changes hands
- Archive files, records, and other papers on a regular basis
- Take advantage of vertical desk organization
- Don’t forget desk organization for cables and cords
- Upgrade old, messy, and sloppy-looking supplies
- Make time in your schedule for routine upkeep
Why is it important to organize your desk?
There are a lot of good reasons to keep your desk neat and tidy. Consider, for example, making a good impression with coworkers, clients, and senior management. A well-organized desk also reduces the risk of sensitive information being compromised. Leaving loose papers and documents on your desk can put confidential information at risk.
Desk organization increases efficiency
Additionally, decluttering your desk makes it easier to find the items you need so that you can work more efficiently. Harvard Business Review makes a case for cleaning your desk, linking a messy workspace to a lack of focus and increased stress.
Messy desks are a hotbed of germs
Last, but most definitely not least, clutter makes it difficult to clean your desk and office supplies. Don’t think you need to be wiping down and disinfecting your desk regularly? Think again. From a Safety Now article:
“According to Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, the average office worker has over 10 million bacteria living on its [sic] desk—that’s 400 times more than the average truck stop toilet seat.”
1) Create a system to sort and store active paperwork
Give everything a place to avoid stacks of paper clutter that take over your workspace. At minimum, you will need desktop storage for incoming, outgoing, and high-priority paperwork. Additionally, consider giving yourself extra desktop storage for other active paperwork. For example, items that routinely come across your desk, such as receipts and expense reports.
One way to instantly create better desk organization is to get yourself a letter tray and/or desktop file organizer. Both items make excellent use of vertical space and are ideal for sorting and storing active paperwork. Label where everything goes so that you can quickly find what you need when working.
You’ll also want to label all your file folders. Neatly labeled folders make it easy to transition working files to archived file storage when the time comes. A set amount of space to store working files also forces you to streamline paperwork before it takes over.
Try creating your own custom file folder labels with our free Avery Design and Print Online software. All you need is a free Avery account and an internet connection to use it. There is no need to download or install anything. In fact, you can even use it on your smart phone.
2) Use portable storage for work that travels or changes hands
Desk organization can be even more challenging if you’re not always working at the same desk. To keep everything neat and organized, take into account documents and other work items that will travel with you. For example:
- Team documents that get passed around
- Meeting and/or presentation materials
- Work you’ll need while traveling for business
- Paperwork that travels between work and home
- Samples and office supplies used at different locations
If you work from home some of the time or you often travel between various branches or office locations, then you need to think mobile. It’s so easy to come home with work or bring work from home and drop it in a pile on your desk. Instead, consider a rolling cart or bag to store samples, supplies, and other bulky items you need on the go.
For paperwork and documents, binders and dividers are absolutely essential. Expanding file pockets are also great for storing and organizing papers that move around. With everything neatly contained, you don’t end up with random piles of work cluttering your desk.
Pro Tip: Check out more ways to conquer paper clutter on your desk with our list of top office supplies to help you stay organized.
3) Archive files, records, and other papers on a regular basis
It’s tempting to just leave the stacks of file folders you pulled from your filing cabinet piled on your desk. But small stacks soon become towers of clutter that ruin your desk organization if you don’t have a system for returning them.
However, when your filing cabinet is organized, it’s easier to put files back in the right place and avoid folder towers. Firstly, indexing your hanging file folders is a must. If you can’t see where things go, it’s impossible to stay organized.
Once your hanging folders are indexed, take it a step further by categorizing your files. Group them by purpose, time period, department, or whatever categories make sense for you. You can do this by color-coding your index tabs or grouping folders together with labeled binder clips.
Pro Tip: Small 2/3" x 1-3/4" blank labels by the sheet are the perfect size for labeling binder clips, and you can order as few as one sheet of labels. Clear film gives you a clean, printed-on look.
4) Take advantage of vertical desk organization options
Vertical space is often overlooked when it comes to desk organization. Instead, we let everything that doesn’t work go into a drawer or pile up on our desktop. Clear the clutter by taking advantage of any vertical space you can find. Cubicle accessories like shelves, hanging file organizers, and hooks are a great start.
If you don’t have cubicle wall space and/or can’t hang shelves, get creative. Take some inspiration from garage workbenches. A peg board or a cork board with push pins can be propped up and used to store small items like device cables.
5) Don’t forget desk organization for cables and cords
When it comes to device cables, sometimes it seems like the only options are loose cables piled on your desk or a drawer full of tangled cables. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Neatly coiled labels fit better in drawers, and can also be hung on pegboard or with push pins. Neatly label them with barbell labels so that you waste less time searching for the right cable.
6) Sort remaining desk items; replace, remove, or upgrade
After you’ve handled paperwork, supplies that travel between locations, and cords, it’s time to sort everything else on your desk. First, identify old, worn-out items that are falling apart. You can’t work efficiently with substandard tools. Replace or repair them.
Next, assess office supplies and decorative items and ask yourself the hard questions. How often do you really use that dusty laminating machine? Do your decorations bring you joy, or have you outgrown them? Transfer any items you don’t use regularly to drawer storage or remove them from your desk entirely. Let go of décor that doesn’t make you happy to free up more desk space for items that brighten your day.
Finally, get rid of eyesores such as outdated, unprofessional, or unappealing décor. Don’t overlook old notes and reminders, especially paper sticky notes. Once they’re torn, crumpled, or have lost their “stick” and keep falling off, it’s time for them to go.
Pro Tip: Upgrade your sticky note game with multiuse 2" x 1-1/2" Ultra Tabs. They're made of durable plastic you can write on, and they're repositionable too. You can remove and re-stick them securely as needed.
7) Make time in your schedule for routine upkeep
Desk organization is not a static, one-time-only project. However, once you’ve organized your desk and created a system for where everything goes, it’s easier to keep it up. That’s not to say that you can “set it and forget it,” though. Clutter can easily build up when we are simply too busy to pay attention.
The good news is that devoting just five minutes a day to putting items back where they belong can improve desk organization. If you never seem to have even five minutes to spare, it might be time to start using your planner to manage your time better. Not only will you have a better view of your time, but planners do really help with goals, which we wrote about here.
Simply prioritizing tasks can also help. Keeping all tasks at the forefront of your mind at all times requires a lot of mental energy. Instead, organize to-do lists and task lists by priority. That way you’re able to focus on just what needs to be done immediately, and you can free up a few minutes to keep your desk organized.
Boost productivity with better desk organization
In summary, improving your desk organization is a great time investment. First and foremost, it helps you work more efficiently, stay focused, and make a good impression. You’ll also find that it’s easier to clean and disinfect your desk when needed.
First, create a system to sort and store paperwork and set up portable storage for work that travels. Next, organize hanging file folders so that you can archive files, records, and other papers on a regular basis.
Then, make sure that you’re taking advantage of any vertical space you can find to get supplies off your desk. Cables and cords are excellent candidates for vertical storage and one of the hardest items to keep tidy. After that, sort the remaining items on your desk. Replace, remove, or upgrade as needed.
And finally, make time in your schedule for routine upkeep. Use prioritized lists and a work planner to create time in your schedule to maintain your new clutter-free desk.
What’s your biggest challenge when organizing your desk? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll do our best to answer any questions. Bookmark this post for later, or share on Facebook and LinkedIn to help your officemates declutter their desks too.