5 Quick Tips for Organizing Your Desk

Do you have one of those desks that makes everyone stop and stare? You swear you “know where everything is” … but you can also acknowledge that your workspace is a bit of a mess. Whether you’re in need of a serious overhaul or you would just like to take your already-neat desk to the next level, these tips should help you get going with your goal. None of these suggestions should take more than a few minutes to apply, meaning that you’ll be able to see a big difference with just a little time and effort, and that’s always a good thing.

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(Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver/Flickr)

1. Commit to a to-do list system.

Some people keep track of what they have coming up by using a calendar. Other folks rely on to-do lists for organizing their schedule, while others stick to Post-it notes. Yet another group doesn’t really have one system but instead elect to use all of the above.

Take the time to commit to one system that might work for you and keep the tool (notebook, calendar, whatever you’re using) with you at all times. Having just one place where you can reliably go in order to find out what’s next will help you organize your time, not just your desk.

2. Take the time to put things away when you’re done with them.

This is a gradual clean-as-you-go strategy, and a habit that so many of us could stand to adopt. It’s easy to come back from a meeting and throw the files right on top of everything else before grabbing what you need for your next appointment. Instead, take that extra minute (seriously, it really takes just a minute) to put your materials away when you’re done with them.

Don’t consider the meeting over until you have done so. Before mentally shifting gears, put everything away in its place, then move on. If you don’t let yourself pick up something new until the old things are put away, you’ll find that your workspace will be clearing up in no time.

3. When things get really bad, take everything off your desk and start over.

Sometimes, the only real way to clean off your desk is to clear everything and start at the beginning. Trying to move piles back and forth and shuffling papers around is actually less time-efficient than clearing it all away.

So, bite the bullet and do it right. Take everything off your desk and clean the surface. And then take the time to go through your things as you place them back on the desk. Some things will end up in filing cabinets, storage closets, and trash cans, and only the things you really need will remain.

Try not to get overwhelmed; the whole process won’t take as long as you think it will. Do a few minutes at a time if you like. You can use the clear part of the desk top to keep working as needed.

4. Discover the power of folders (or files, or notebooks…)

In order keep your desk together, you need a reliable system. Some people organize projects into folders, while others prefer files, notebooks, or something else. The point here is that you can’t be improvisational about your paperwork or things are going to get out of hand again very soon. Plus, you’ll be more productive if the materials you need are readily available.

Commit to an organizational tool, some way of categorizing your work into subsections and then group everything together. Each item (folder, file, clipboard, etc.) should contain everything you need for one task or project and it should be clearly labeled. It really doesn’t matter what type of system you have, as long as you have one.

5. Spend five minutes organizing at the end of the day.

It can be pretty tempting to head straight for the door once the tasks of the day are done and it’s time to head out. But, taking just five minutes to organize your work and your desk before you go will help you hit the ground running in the morning. Put your to-do list (or calendar, or Post-its, whatever you’re using) toward the center of the desk. Sort piles into logical stacks around that center point, and file away (or throw away) all of the extras that remain.

It will feel really good to start your day tomorrow with a neat workspace. You’ll be able to get right to work without wasting any time looking for materials, and the neat space will help you feel focused and relaxed. Spend just a few minutes organizing yourself at the end of the day, and reap what you sow tomorrow. You’ll be grateful for the fresh start.

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