10 tips for keeping your desk clean and tidy

Chanpory Rith — №1 with David Allen

Truth is, I’m just lazy. When I started wasting more and more time looking for lost items instead of being a brilliant creative person, I knew I had to do something. I got my desk organized, and have been miraculously keeping it clean for the past three months.

Here’s how:

1. Use a system to manage paper

Most of the clutter on my desk is paper. In one of my recent posts, I wrote about a system for organizing files on the computer. The same system can be modified to work with physical files:

Setup: A place for everything

First, you’ll need a few items:

Usage: Process, Organize, Review

You’re now all set and ready to clean your desk. The steps below are adapted from David Allen’s GTD system:

2. Banish Post-it notes

Stop using Post-its to remind yourself of important information. They’re just too easy to lose and they’re ugly when plastered all over your monitor. Instead, keep a little notebook on your desk to write down reminder notes.

3. Trash those printouts

After printing a file and completing the action associated with it, throw it away. You already have a copy of it on your computer, so you don’t keep it lying around on your desk.

4. Keep blank file folders and a label maker at your desk

The reason while you don’t file is because it’s so tedious to find folders and label them. With a stack of blank folders and label maker within reach, you have no excuse.

5. Ritualize your reviews

Schedule time in iCal or other calendaring program to clean your desk at the end of each day. After two or three weeks, the habit will stick.

6. Throw away pens

Why do you need so many pens? Throw them all out except for two or three. If it doesn’t have a cap, toss it.

7. Say no to schwag

Yes, it’s hard to resist the ugly free crap at conferences and internal office events, but avoid taking them just because they’re free. This includes all those cheap pens, stickers, free magazines, brochures, postcards, and anything else that will likely end up littered on your desk. If you need a reminder of a particular vendor, take your PDA or notebook with you and write the company’s name and URL down.

8. Take your books home

Take home any books you don’t use on a regular basis for work. You’ll have more space to work, and if you have to leave your job for any reason (heaven forbid), you’ll have fewer heavy items to pack.

9. Eat away from your desk

Eating at your desk encourages trash like paper bags, cups, and utensils to stick around your desk. I’ve been guilty of this and have the crumbs in my keyboard to prove it. To prevent this, eat somewhere else. Preferably, out of the office.

Doing this also allows you a mental break from work where you can enjoy your meal without phone or computer interruptions.

10. Limit photo frames on your desk

Pictures of loved ones remind us of what’s important in our lives. More than three on your desk, however, is a distraction. Instead, use Flickr to store photos which you can view in a slideshow during a break.

Photo: Flickr / pasukaru76 CC BY 2.0

Chanpory rith

Chanpory Rith

Chanpory Rith helms LifeClever, a blog dedicated to design advice, productivity tips, and life hacks. During the day, he’s an interaction designer for Dubberly Design Office in San Francisco. When not feeling modest, he likes to brag about his interaction and branding work for Macworld, PC World, Symantec, Adobe, Yahoo!, and Four Seasons Hotel. Chanpory is a graduate of the California College of the Arts and Oakland Technical High School.

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