Whether you’re moving into a new office or simply uncluttering and organizing your current space, one of the easiest ways to get your desk in order is to focus on organizing zones according to purpose. When you deal with the items on your desk based on similar function, you can keep the most important items as the focus of your space and put the least important items out of the way. If you’re uncluttering your desk, take a day and work on just one zone — you’ll keep from feeling overwhelmed, and you’ll have a well organized office in less than two weeks.
The following zones are the eight most common areas people have in their offices. You may have more, but don’t skip over these areas when organizing your space —
- Equipment: This group likely includes your computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, scanner, telephone, pen cup, maybe a hard drive backup system, and any job-specific devices. These are the tools that you have on your desk that help you perform the functions of your work. You access these tools every day and you cannot successfully work if any of these devices is missing or malfunctioning. When setting up your desk (or rearranging it), these items are the first to be placed and should be in the most comfortable, convenient, and ergonomic location. When you’re sitting at your desk (or standing at it if you use a standing desk) you should be able to reach these items without having to move anything other than your arms. Nothing should interfere with your ability to access these items.
- Inbox: An inbox is not a place for you to dump stuff you don’t want to deal with right now. The point of an inbox is so people can come into your office, leave materials, and know exactly where to put those materials so you will find them and deal with them upon your return. You can put items in your inbox, but the items in this box should be processed every day. Each evening when you leave work, your inbox should be empty. Similar to the equipment you need to do your job, your inbox should be placed on your desk in an area that is comfortable and convenient to access for you and for anyone coming into your office to leave you things. It should also be clearly marked as an inbox so your coworkers know what it is.
- Current Projects: I store each of my current projects in a Flip-Top Document Storage Box. This allows me to have all the files and materials in one location that I can pull out when I need to work on the project, and then easily contain everything for storage when I’m ready to move on to the next project. Magazine files also work well for this. They’re easy to carry into meetings and to keep stacks of paper from overtaking your desk. I recommend storing these projects on a nearby shelf for easy access during your work day.
- Active Files: Files you’re accessing multiple times a week can either go in a file drawer of your desk that is convenient to reach, or in a file organizer on your desk. People who are extremely visual should use a file organizer that sits on your desk so you don’t forget the files exist. I suggest using a tiered organizer so you can see all of the file tabs to make retrieval simple. If you’re more of an audio processor, keeping your active files in your desk drawer is terrific because it frees up space on your work surface.
- Reference Materials: Most jobs come with notebooks and other materials that are required to be kept in your office. Only have the most current versions of these in close proximity to your desk, and keep them on a bookshelf or in a cupboard where you can access them without too much effort. Since most people don’t reference these items daily, it’s okay to put them further out of reach than those materials you need every day. Be sure to label these items well, however, since you want to be able to find them when you do need them.
- Supplies: It can be incredibly simple to hoard office supplies, but you should fight the urge, especially if your workplace has a supply closet. At most, have one extra of everything you use — ream of paper, box of staples, a few pens in various colors, a box of binder clips — but leave it at that. You don’t need five boxes of pens in your desk, but rather more like five pens in your desk drawer. Let the office supply closet store items like it is intended to. There are no awards to be won for having the most office supplies taking up space in your desk.
- Archived Files: Many workplaces require you to store files for three or five years before destroying them or shipping them off to a long-term storage facility. All the archived files you are expected to keep should be as far away from your immediate work area as possible in your office. Once a month, you should also sort through your Current Projects and your Active Files to ensure neither of these items are accidentally storing files you no longer reference.
- Personal Items: It’s important to have a few personal items in your workspace to signal to your coworkers and boss that you are committed to your job. A small plant, a photograph of your family, and the wallpaper on your computer’s desktop set to a favorite travel destination say that you are a well-rounded person who has a life outside of your job. More personal items than this and your workspace can start to look like a dorm room and unprofessional. Keep your personal items where you can see them but out of the way so as not to impede on your work surface.