Tools of the Trade

Do you keep a stapler on your desk? How often do you use it?

What about the other objects taking up real estate on your desk? How many items could live in desk drawers or cupboards instead of on your work surface?

If the top of your desk is cluttered, start by looking at all of the equipment, peripherals, and doo-dads occupying space and decide if some of the objects could find better homes someplace else.

I started this post by mentioning the stapler because most people don’t use them on a regular basis. Paper clips, photocopiers that staple documents automatically, and double-sided printing have reduced the amount of stapling people do at their desks. Clearing the stapler — or broken printer or obsolete Rolodex or whatever you are not using on a daily basis — off of your desk and storing it in a desk drawer is a simple way to give yourself more work space. Except the broken printer… feel free to get rid of that altogether!

You don’t have to make your desk sparse and uninviting, but giving yourself room to move can help boost your productivity by clearing distractions and frustrations from your line of sight. Are there objects on your desk that don’t belong to you? Do you have a small collection of dirty coffee cups and used utensils? What can you do right now to clear the clutter and create a more useful work environment?


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

22 Comments for “Tools of the Trade”

  1. posted by Rue on

    I personally keep my stapler on my desk as I use it several times a day.

    As far as other “desk real estate” – I keep things that I use every day on my desk. I’ve seen other posts on this site that say you don’t need your pencil cup or paper clip holder on your desk. BUT I believe that what stays on the desk is more of a “to each his own” thing. While I use my stapler and paper clip cups every day, someone else may not.

    Really, the “desk real estate” quandary is this: What’s on your desk that you AREN’T using? Because if you don’t use it several times a day, then it doesn’t need to be on your desk. But if you use something daily, even if someone else might consider it clutter (like a stapler or pencil cup), it’s worth the “real estate” of your desk.

    So clean up the things that you don’t use and don’t belong to you! Feel free to leave everything else, neatly arranged of course 😉

  2. posted by Milton Waddums on

    You took my red stapler.

  3. posted by Beth on

    Yes – my stapler, pencil cup, tape dispenser, and paper clip cup are on my desk at all times. When I moved into my new house, I bought two IKEA desks and positioned them in a “L” shape. Great workspace – no desk drawers. I have thought about purchasing a cabinet for underneath but I think that would limit my sliding ability to go from one work area to another.

    I have divided up my “L” into 2 quadrants – one is my computer work area with my laptop and the other is my work area with the pens, staples, etc. I must confess that I am still working with the space and fiddling around with what is the most efficient setup.

  4. posted by Valerie on

    The stapler stays in the drawer, but for some reason, the tape stays on the desk. Maybe it’s because our staff asst. got me a nice heavy fancy dispenser and I’m showing it off on the desktop. 🙂

  5. posted by Deb on

    The stapler on my desk is the least of my worries. Now, as for the piles of paper…

  6. posted by Kate on

    As long as it’s neatly organized and somewhat out of the way, I think it’s fine for these things to be on the desk. For me, it’s more of a time-waster to have to get the stapler, paper clips, etc. out of the drawer when I need than to ‘work around’ it on my desk.

  7. posted by Celeste on

    I keep everything in a desk drawer. I considered one of those spinning caddies that holds it all in one spot, but didn’t like the aesthetics of it or thinking about dust in the crevices.

    I like a minimalist desk.

  8. posted by Kate on

    Stapler and rulers on the desk; paper clips, pens, tape, etc. in the drawer. Like Rue, I use my stapler and rulers throughout the day. Tape; not so much!

  9. posted by Red on

    For me, I need to have a clear workspace where I can process large projects easily. So on the desktop is a series of stamps I use, stapler, cup of pens/markers, calculator, phone, handcream, posit dispenser, computer, and coffee mug. That’s it. Everything else is in containers and folders in my drawers so I can concentrate on one thing at a time. As for keeping it this way, I clear it off at the end of every day and then once per month do a major cleaning/organizing of my office so I’m not hanging onto things I don’t need. Also keeps the dust bunnies down. Now my home office is another story… someday I will get it the way I want it… someady…

  10. posted by infmom on

    The stapler and tape dispenser are on my husband’s desk (we share a home office). The paper clips are on my desk. My desk has room for a Mug Master full of useful tools, a radiometer, my coffee mug and a pink wooly mammoth. Anyone can have a pink elephant.

  11. posted by Leslie from Australia on

    Two staplers live in my top desk drawer, and to be honest, I never use them. But my students do, sometimes if I hand out printed worksheets – and not often as I put their work up on line, they will go and get a stapler out of the drawer.

  12. posted by Clare K. R. Miller on

    I actually did that recently–took a whole bunch of stuff I don’t use often (including my stapler) off my desk and made drawer space for it. It really is nice to have the extra workspace.

  13. posted by Christine in DC on

    At the office, I have my phone, stapler (yes, I use fairly frequently–paper clips drive me crazy b/c they’re always catching other stuff), a little dish where I throw random stuff, my card holder, a few pictures, 2 cups of pens, monitor, and lamp…and paper. Lots of paper.

  14. posted by Deb on

    My desktop holds the stapler and pencil cup which I use constantly. I also have the stacks of paper the other Deb above has notes. I am a very visual person.

    I also tend to keep books and binders here to remind me of things I intend to do. I have an activity book whose title constantly reminds me of some of my goals while planning lessons. I also have a geneology book that reminds me of my goal to get the family data in shape in time for a gift I am working on.

    The check record binder is always in my view so I don’t forget to attend to financial records. I have my scanner here to remind me of the project of digitizing my old photos.

    You can see I am still in the Dark Ages when it comes to online bill-paying and computer calendars. Having these things cluttering up my desk is another way of reminding me to get started on THAT project!

  15. posted by Jasi on

    -1 Pen
    -1 Black Med. Sharpie

    That’s all I need. = )

  16. posted by Mary D. on

    Until about 6 months ago, I kept my stapler on my desk and used it about 50 times a day. Then my workflow changed drastically and it went down to about once a week. Still, it took until about a month ago for me to move the stapler to a drawer. Last week, I moved the stapler to a different workspace where we need a stapler more often, to replace the old barely-working one which was there. I haven’t missed it, and I figure crossing the room to staple something once a week is worth the drawer space I’ve gained.

  17. posted by [email protected] Awareness * Connection on

    In my counseling office and in my home office, I keep the stapler in the top drawer so it’s not taking up space and creating visual clutter. But I use it frequently enough for progress notes that I need it handy.

  18. posted by julia1060 on

    my office real estate is small so the desk stays free of all but the laptop and lamp. Small endtable by the desk serves as a return and keeps supplies I use with regularity- tape, stapler, phone on top shelf, pens/postits/supplies on bottom shelf. Handy, orderly, works for me.

  19. posted by oklagirl on

    This post made me think about my desk in a different way. It has no drawers, just a keyboard pullout and monitor stand. I always assumed I NEEDED everything on the desk, otherwise it wouldn’t be on the desk…So I spent about fifteen minutes (including dusting) taking things off the desk. I put things that belonged elsewhere away, and stuff I don’t use regularly (including the stapler and box of extra staples) in a wooden wine box with a hinged lid. I tucked it under the desk so I can grab what I need quickly. I can actually see and use my desk calendar now! Thanks for the inspiration.

  20. posted by WilliamB on

    A lot of stuff that I *do* use daily goes into my desk drawer, at home and at work.

    On my work desk are my computers and associated paraphenalia (sp?), phone, little post-it pad, scratch pad, tissues, hand sanitizer, the books that don’t fit in the bookcase, non-fridge snacks for the day, and piles of paper. Everything else is in a drawer, even things I use daily like pens (put away at the end of the day or they grow legs) or pinned on the bulletin board. My stash of snacks is in the deep file drawer.

    At home my desk has even less: computer, one short vertical file, pen cup for the half dozen implements I use frequently, scratch pad for lists, coaster, speaker phone. All the other little stuff is in the top drawer. The layout has remained the same for [cough] years, I will no longer buy a desk that doesn’t fit the plastic drawer organizer I use, and I can find everything in there blindfolded.

    I have a ton of stuff in the two office drawers, the deep office drawer, the printer table, the short bookcase, and the surfaces on which I put the piles of papers, but the desktop itself is always empty except for the pile of paper I’m working on right then.

  21. posted by Mxytsplyk on

    Back in the day, someone made a small office tool cube. it’s black with multi-color flush fitting tool compartments. It’s 2-7/8″ cubed measurement.

    Tape measure
    tape dispenser
    Exacto-type knife
    stamp box
    magnetic slot for paperclips.

    I’d like to get another one but they don’t seem to be made anymore.

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