The time has come for you to work! You’re ready. You’ve got your motivation music ready. You walk to your desk and…realize it’s covered in STUFF! How on earth did on this stuff end up on your desk? Papers, pens, folders, mail, even some random things thrown in there. Now before you can start working, you have to clear a space so you can actually get some work done. And by the time you finish clearing a space to work, so much time has passed that you’ve lost all that motivation to get any real work done.
How many times have you been here? How many times have you stared at your desk with disdain wondering how it got so messy? How your once cleared off workspace turned into a dumping ground for anything and everything?
Desks are one of the most challenging and one of the most essential places to get organized in your space. But they’re also one of the most challenging to keep organized, too!
So, what do you do about it? Where do you even begin to start?
Most people want to jump in and start organizing the actual things on their desk, right away. And yet, there is an essential piece that you need to understand first: Why you should keep your desk clean!
You see, the fact of the matter is, you can organize your desk perfectly, but if you don’t understand the principles behind why you should keep it organized, if you don’t have a reason to keep it looking pristine or even tidy, you won’t keep it looking that way and you’ll be back at square one: Standing at your desk wondering how on earth you’re going to get any work done because your desk is covered in 18 layers of…stuff.
Principle #1 :: Your Desk is a Work Space
Desks are unique among furniture because they’re designed to be both a space that holds things and a clear space to work. Ideally, they’re a space where you can sit down and begin working with nothing in the way right away!
However, if you don’t have this mindset that your desk is both a space to hold specific things and a space you keep clear for working, you’ll struggle to know what belongs on your desk and what doesn’t. You’ll struggle to know whether or not you have room for something on your desk or if you don’t.
Before you start organizing or rearranging your desk, take a step back and look at it. What amount of space do you want to be clear for work space? Where do you want that space to be on your desk? Will it be to one side or in the center? Get a picture of how much space you want to be clear even before you start.
Principle #2 :: Clear Space Equals Clear Headspace
There’s been research done proving that you have more space in your head to accomplish things when there’s clear physical space around you. This is extremely true when it comes to your desk.
When you have a desk or workspace that’s covered in clutter, it’s very easy to be distracted and focus on anything and everything other than the task you should be focusing on. On the other hand, when you’re able to sit down at your desk and have space to work, not distracted by papers and piles of things around you, it becomes so much easier to be productive and to be focused.
One of the biggest motivating factors to get your desk organized and to keep it organized is realizing how you can transform your space and your productivity with this one simple thing. You can transform your space by taking it from a source of confusion and chaos to an oasis of calm and clarity. You can take it from a pile of panic to place of productivity.
Clear the Desk!
Understanding why you need a clear desk is fantastic. In fact, I would say it’s essential to keeping your desk organized once you get it organized. But how do you get it organized in the first place? Where do you start when it comes to organizing this crazy thing called your desk? Sometime the question is: How do you find your desk under all that stuff in the first place?
Well, like anything worth doing, you need to start at the beginning and take it step by step…
Step 1 :: Collect the Office Supplies
Now, this might seem like an odd first step, but I promise there is a method to the seeming madness here. Your first step is to collect all the office supplies. This includes the pens, pencils, sharpies, scissors, post-it notes, rulers, rubber bands, paper clips, binder clips…you get the picture.
Now, if you have a specific holder where you want to keep your pens and pencils, I suggest you find that first, empty it out and then start filling it with all the office supplies you find on your desk. If you do not have a specific holder for these items, you need to find one. Coffee mugs, mason jars, or even a plastic cup work wonderfully for holding pens and pencils. Small plastic containers or even plastic bags will work to hold rubber bands, paper clips, and binder clips. The big idea here is to collect as many items as you can see and get them all combined into one place. And as you do make sure to use the like with like rule. Simply put, pens go with pens, paper clips go with paper clips, I’m sure you can take it form there.
Keep in mind that depending on the shape your desk is in, you very well may continue to find pens, pencils, paper clips, and more as you continue to clean off your desk. This is totally okay! You do not have to locate each and every pen, pencil, and paper clip in this step. The big idea here is to collect as many of them as you see and get them all into one spot.
Are you wondering about the madness of collecting the pens and pencils for step one? Here’s the method behind it: As you continue to clear off the rest of your desk you’re going to use paper clips and binder clips to hold papers together. You’re going to give stacks of paper temporary labels with sharpies and sticky notes. You’re going to write things down on a to do list. And you need the items you just collected to do all of those things effectively. Do you see the method behind the madness? I hope so! Okay, on to step two!
Step 2 :: Find Your Work Space
Because you’re organizing your desk, you know there’s a work space under there somewhere holding up all this random stuff that got piled on top, right? Of course! So, the big goal in this step is to find the work space. To find and clear off that table top.
Now, this step is going to look a little bit different for everyone. For someone who likes trinkets or figurines or brick-a-brac on your desk, you might need to find a box and place all those items inside to hold them in one spot for a bit.
If you’re like most people, your desk is going to be covered in papers! And folders, and binders, and more. You want to start removing the papers from your desk space. The easiest way to do this is to use the floor or a nearby table to help you sort through the papers you have.
When you take papers off of your desk, some of them will be loose and others will be clipped together with paper clips or binder clips. Separate the papers into piles that make sense to you. You could sort them project by project or you could sort them by financial papers and correspondence. You could sort them into categories or whatever works for you. Remember, this is your desk, so create piles that make the most sense to you.
As you’re working through the papers on your desk be sure to create a specific pile for any papers that need your immediate attention. You know, those ones with due dates and such.
As you continue to clear the papers and sort them into piles, you should see work space on your desk appearing and growing larger and larger. Be encouraged by this! And don’t give up part way through this project! Keep going!
Step 3 :: Create a To Do List
While you’re working to clear off your desk, you’ll probably see a bunch of things and think, ‘Oh my goodness! I need to do that!’ Instead of simply letting these thoughts float through your head without doing anything about them, grab a piece of paper and one of those pens you found in Step One and write down those tasks as they come to your mind.
Now, most likely this list will look very disjointed. It will be a bunch of scattered and random thoughts simply thrown on paper. That’s perfectly okay! In fact, that’s exactly what you should be creating right now.
You see, the idea is not to organize the list right now. The idea is not to prioritize the list or even to make it look pretty! The big idea is to write down different tasks that pop into your head while you’re organizing your desk. Did you catch that? The big idea is to write down all those tasks in one place and keep clearing off your desk.
Step 4 :: Label Your Piles
Once you have all your papers off your desk and sorted into piles, you’ll want to label each pile before you forget what it is! The best way to give piles of paper a temporary label is to use a sticky note and a sharpie. (Remember when we found all of them before? Method in the madness, my Friend!)
Before you start writing, you need to decide if you are going to have the post it note simply be on the page itself or if you are going to have it stick out to the side or the top like a flag. If you choose to make flags, be sure to write your label on the side without the stickiness.
Label each pile with a word or short phrase that makes sense to you. You don’t have to get fancy here, but make sure when you look at your label, you know exactly what’s in that pile.
Once you stick all your sticky note labels on your piles of paper, take your binder clips and paper clips and clip each pile together so it doesn’t get separated.
Step 5 :: Wipe Down Your Equipment
Now that you have a good amount of what was on your desk off your desk, it’s time to do a little dusting. If your desk is anything like mine, the equipment that sits on it gets rather dusty. And desks just don’t seem to be high on the list of areas to dust, do they?
So, grab your dusting rag, start at the top and start wiping down the equipment and anything that’s left on your desk. If you have a shelf of binders you want to stay put, simply dust them and put them back. If you have some books or a file holder you want to keep on your desk, move those items out of the way, dust underneath them, dust the item, and put it where you want it to be.
Step 6 :: Straighten the Cords
While you’re going through and doing all this dusting, now is a fabulous time to take a look at where all your cords and cables are going. And not just the cords and cables leading from one piece of equipment to another, but also the cords leading from the power source to your equipment.
Now, cords are necessary, but sometimes they can feel like a necessary evil when they start taking over the space you have to work! Since you have a good amount of space cleared off, take a moment to check and see where those cords, cables, and wires are going. Are they taking the shortest route? Can the cables be moved to the edge of the desk or cable tied together to keep them out of your way? Are they cutting right across your work space? Take a few minutes and straighten up these cords, making sure they are out of the way of your main work space.
Step 7 :: Set Up Your Desk
By this point, you should be looking at a fairly clear desk. One that has the bare minimum of items on it. Once you arrive at this point, you have a couple decisions to make. You can choose what items go back on top of your desk and which items do not! You can choose how they go back on your desk.
So, it’s decision time. Start with the office supplies, your pens, pencils, paper clips, etc. Do you want all of them on your desk? Do you want some of them on top of your desk and the rest in a top drawer? Decide where you want to put them and place them there.
What about the papers that came off your desk? Do you want to have a folder system where you can file to papers as they arrive, then take one folder at a time to address the papers? Do you want to have one big pile where the papers land on your desk and you take them one at a time, deal with them, then file them away where they belong? Or are there papers you simply need to file immediately leaving you with a very small pile that can sit on your desk?
The big idea is to look at each item you pulled off your desk and not simply put it back where it was, but evaluate whether or not this particular item needs to be on top of your desk or if it can be kept or filed someplace else.
Step 8 :: Look in the Drawers
Now, if you have time to look in the drawers of your desk right now, that’s amazing! Go for it! But if you don’t have time to clean out the drawers of your desk right away, that’s more than okay. Don’t forget about them, but don’t overwhelm yourself, either!
Step 9 :: Don’t Forget Your To Do List
You didn’t think I would forget about your to do list, now did you? Do you remember that rough to do list you were creating as you cleared off your desk? Well, now that you have a clear work space at your desk, take a seat and use that work space to organize your to do list.
Now, organizing your to do list sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. All you need is your to do list and a pen or pencil. Take a look at the list you created as you were clearing off your desk. Identify the one thing that is most important and most time pressing and write a number 1 next to that item. Next, find the thing that needs to be done second and write a number 2 next to that item. Continue this process until each item on your list has a number. And remember, there cannot be any ties!
At this point, you have a choice: You can choose to work off of this numbered to do list as it is or you can choose to re-write the list so item number 1 is at the top and the other items continue in descending order. Or if you prefer, you can type your list or plug your list into a digital calendar. It’s less about the form the list takes and all about whether or not you’ll use it!
The Final Step
Organizing your desk isn’t all that difficult to do when you know the steps to take. Getting it from that initial chaos and confusion to a space of calm and clarity can happen in the space of a couple hours.
But where organizing your desk really matters is on a day to day basis. It really matters when it comes to keeping your desk neat and organized. My personal favorite tip in this area is to take 5 minutes at the end of every day and straighten up your desk, clearing your work space so that it’s ready the next time you sit down at your desk to work.
- How to Deal with Piles of Paper in Your Space
- Finding Your Perfect To-Do List
- How to Organize Your Financial Papers
- How to Organize the Mess: A Step by Step Guide
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.