How to organize your desk

The most popular room I’m asked to organize is easily the home office.

These days everyone has a computer at home and we pay bills on it, we write emails, we shop, and we socialize. As a result of all of this time spent being distracted (and doing some work) on our computers, our desks are totally neglected and in desperate need of love.

Are you with me?

Is your desk a scary vortex?

Here is a quick run-down of how to organize your desk. The home office in these photos is one I worked on this week which belonged to a very organized, neat guy. So, your desk may take longer than this. (And by this I mean it WILL take longer. I’m trying to be nice.)

How to organize your desk

Before photo of the desk

The obvious problem all of us have is random papers floating around on our desktop or even piles of papers. In order to combat this problem you have to start by weeding out your filing cabinet and any other place you store papers.

STEP 1: cull your files and in-box(es) of old, irrelevant papers

Get rid of old insurance policies, utility bills, work papers you don’t need anymore. There will be lots of stuff you can toss here. Use this list to help you. Ben spent about 30 minutes thinning his files while I labeled the ones he was keeping. Most filing cabinets take over an hour per drawer! Be prepared for this to be all you do the first day or two.

**Organizer bonus fact: most of you only use 20% of the paper you have in your filing cabinet right now. You can expect to throw out up to 80% of your files if you are serious about what you really need.

STEP 2: consolidate your to-do lists. Use an online program like or a single notebook.

Ben had 4 notebooks he was using to take notes. We spent about 10 minutes consolidating the to-do lists and put the 3 least relevant notebooks away to be used later. He also put a long term to-do list on a document on his computer. Great idea.

**Organizer bonus tip: If you are a notebook keeper, write the date it your notebook every now and then so when you are going back searching for something you have a time reference. Search your online calendar for a relevant event to narrow down your time frame of notes to go through in your notebook.

STEP 3: find a place for every paper and every item on your desk top.

This means you will remove everything and put back only what you truly need. You put things back in a way they make sense to you, in the nearest available place to where you’ll use them, according to frequency of use, and like with like.

In Ben’s case we used some bowls and containers from the kitchen for paper clips and wrote a shopping list of things to buy to use permanently. For most of you, you’ll have everything you need already. Do not shop (!!) until you are finished organizing.

**Organizer bonus tip: keep on your desktop only things you use daily.

Here is what we ended with. It doesn’t look hugely different, but it is much more conducive to working and everything is easy to find.

Hire an organizer for your office

After photo of the desk

There are other extra steps you can go for if you already have your desk in ship shape.

BONUS 1: organize/cull your electronic files and back them up on

BONUS 2: create a work schedule

Ben is a free-lance guy, so here was our plan:

1st determine which hours of the day are the most likely for him to actually do work. Next, block off all but 1 hour of that good work time on his calendar as WORK. The other hour is marked for emergency things like the Twitter.

Depending on your working style, you can micro-manage your schedule for the week. For most people just putting a chunk of work hours on the calendar is a helpful place to start.

**Organizer bonus tip: Honor the WORK appointment in your calendar as you would any other. If you need to change the time around for another meeting or trip, then take the work appointment off the calendar for that time. If you just start ignoring it and planning things over the Work time without re-scheduling Work time, the block on your calendar will become invisible.

BONUS 3: Tidy up your cord situation

Ben is handy and took my recommendation (stolen from my husband, Jeff, who stole it from to use a rain gutter screwed into the back of the desk. All power strips and cords get dumped right into the gutter out of sight completely!

BONUS 4: decorate your space

Get all feng shui-rific, or put up some photos you love. Put a pretty pillow in your chair. Set up your i-tunes to be enjoyed every time you sit down to facebook—I mean work!

This has been a brief overview of how to organize your desk. I know, I know, there are a lot more details. Ben and I only worked for 3 hours and I think we rocked it.

Still, what did I forget? You tell me!


7 thoughts on “How to organize your desk

  1. Pingback: Snabbtips för Home Office Organisation | Butiksinredning Göteborg

  2. Pingback: Quick Tips For Home Office Organization « Burgin Construction Inc.

  3. There are no drawers in this desk at all. So, he is buying a hipper drawer system in silver or black metal to hold printer paper and office supplies.
    That was on the shopping list when I left.
    good eye, Alex!

  4. I really need to suck it up and spend a day or two doing this. My desk is outta control. I’m dying to know, though, what happened to all the crap that Ben had in that three-drawer plastic thing on his desk? Surely he didn’t pitch it all?

    I also have to say that I LOVE your tip about keeping one notebook. I figured that one out a while ago. My problem is that in my office we use those awful “while you were out” papers for phone messages and post-its for other things. I just staple the thing right into my notebook… so easy.

    Thanks for inspiring me to take a day or two to get my own hot mess of a ‘scary vortex’ under control. Maybe if you’re lucky I’ll send you before and after photos & you can see how I used all your tips :)

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