Four ways to clean up your desk and keep it that way

There’s something satisfying about tidying up a messy desk, but if you don’t have a plan it won’t stay that way for long

Organized desk drawer

(Dan Saelinger/Getty)

What’s the best way to organize your workspace? Productivity consultant Susan Pons of Toronto-based Clear Concept offers four tips to keep your desk (and mind) free of clutter.

1. Apply the real estate principle

Everyone knows the real estate industry’s mantra: location, location, location. Pons advises applying it to your workspace. Prime real estate—your desktop and your nearest shelves and drawers—should be home to valuable, frequently used items (your phone charger, files you need to consult every week). Things you don’t need as often (that reference book you’re sure you’re going to read someday, the shiny shoes you may want for a board meeting) should occupy your workspace’s equivalent of the basement. “Start to think about everything around you in terms of whether it can justify the real estate it occupies,” Pons says. “If you aren’t using it all the time, move it out of a prime location.”

2. Establish homes for everything

Pons cringes when she sees disorganized drawers and cabinets—especially those miscellaneous junk areas where we toss random tea bags and bottles of hand sanitizer. All items in your workspace should have an established home, she says. Her basic organizing principle: group like with like, and buy a dollar store container for each set of like items (pens, batteries, stamps, etc). When everything has an established place, you know exactly where to find anything you’re looking for—and where to put it away when you’re done. “Even if you spend 15 seconds searching for a pen or highlighter, think about how many times you do that each day,” Pons says. “Now think about how great it would be to know exactly where to look for it.”


3. Create a staging area

If you’re working on an ongoing project that needs daily attention, you may be temtpted to leave it out on your desk. Resist that temptation—it’s the first step toward a cluttered workspace. Instead, create a staging area—an easily accessible shelf or drawer where you can store active files and documents and grab them when you need them. When you finished a project, move the files to their permanent home.

4. Put Things Away

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to put things back in their place when you’re finished with them. Clear your workspace as you go through tasks, and give yourself a few minutes at the end of each day to make sure everything is in its place before leaving the office. “If you wait for later, that time may not come,” Pons says.