A Better Desk

Messy Desk

For most people, a clear surface enhances productivity. A wide-open space enables us to spread out, minimize distractions, and focus on what is important. More often than not, people who say “I like a messy space!” are making an excuse for “I don’t want to take the time to clean this up.” If your desk is a cluttered mess, here are some common culprits and ideas for how to get rid of them.

Desk Clutter Culprits

Other People’s Stuff

If your desk is the dumping ground, remove what doesn’t belong to you and return it to its rightful owner.



This one sounds obvious, but we often forget to throw trash away. Pitch whatever you can, such as crumpled paper, used tissues, empty boxes/bags from supplies, candy wrappers, etc.


Business Cards

Gather together any cards on your desk and sort through them to see which contacts you still want to capture (pitch the rest.) Now you have a few options:

  • An old fashioned rolodex, organized alphabetically
  • An electronic “contacts” list. (Input by hand, or use an app such as Evernote to photograph cards and upload them.)
  • A binder with plastic card sleeves. Put a category label in the top right rectangle. (e.g. “Ad Agencies” or “Household Suppliers”)

    Business Card Sleeves

    Avery Business Card Pages

If you have a large stack and no time, consider hiring a virtual assistant (or paying a teenager) to do this for you.



Gather the paper on your desk and move to a place where you can spread out. Sort the paper into piles that make sense to you. For example, you may have a pile for each client, or for each type of project. Label the piles as you sort. Trash/shred whatever paper you don’t need, and the move what is left into files. Paper is always best kept in files!

  • “Current” paper can go into folders that sit in a desktop sorter or into hanging files in a nearby file drawer.
  • “Inactive” paper can be moved into files in a less accessible drawer or file box. OR, you can scan old paperwork and store it electronically.

(for more tips on filing paper, click here.)


Food/Drink supplies

Get a coaster for drinks. This will provide a physical boundary (only one cup at a time), and also keep spills from soiling your desktop. Each time you leave your desk, be sure to clear any “empties” to the trash or kitchen.


“Dead” office supplies

Items in this category include pens that don’t work well, pencils whose tips have fallen out, broken staplers, bent paper clips, dried-up highlighters/Sharpies, etc. Whenever you pick up a tool that doesn’t work well, throw it away!


Office Supply Overkill

Don’t dump the whole huge box of pens into a bin on your desk. Keep 1-2 of each major supply (pen, pencil, letter opener, highlighter…) close at hand, and put the rest in a separate supply area.

If you have a shallow desk drawer, invest in an organizer so you can keep items from sloshing together. If not, get a desktop organizer. The key here is ruthlessly minimize, keeping only what you absolutely need on your desk.


Hanging Distractions

Often, we stick paper up a bulletin board or cubby wall and never take it down. Look at anything that is tacked up around your desk. Remove and pitch anything that is out of date. Arrange the remainder so that it hangs evenly (always pin from both corners), with space both between and around items.


Photo Pile-up

Have one or two photos on your desk, but no more.


Cord chaos

If possible, hang cords off the back of your desk. If your desk is against a wall, consider drilling a porthole through which you can run cords to the power source. Clip or group them together. There are many tools available to help with this, here are a few I like:


Quirky Cordies


Cord Organizer

Command Cord Bundlers


Velcro cord organizer

Velcro One-Wrap


Magazines/Reading Materials

Begin by sorting publications by title. Unless you MUST read them, keep only the most current issue. Move them off your desk and into a “to read” area of your space (a basket, a bin, etc.) Consider canceling subscriptions – most people subscribe to too many and end up spending money only to feel guilty about what they haven’t read.


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Don’t sabotage your productivity by forcing yourself perform on a cluttered desk. What culprit is the biggest struggle for you?

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photo credit: Messy Room via photopin (license)