10 Steps to Unclutter Your Messy Desk


What does your work desk look like right now?

Be honest.

Is it clean, tidy, and uncluttered?

Is it virtually empty?

Or is it covered in piles of papers and files and post-it notes with lots of seemingly urgent to-do’s written on them?

If it’s virtually empty, do you actually have enough work to justify what you do? That could be what your boss will think when they see a desk like that.

If it is clean, tidy, and uncluttered, is that because you are some kind of cleaning freak or do you have an OCD obsession? If you are spending keeping your desk clean instead of doing some real work, that’s not ideal. But if it is a sign of great organization and planning, then you should rightfully be proud of yourself.

 But if your desk looks something like the result of a minor nuclear explosion in the office, you might want to learn some tips to manage the mess on your desk.

A messy desk doesn’t send positive messages to your boss. It is even less impressive if your desk is in a public area where your clients can see your desk. You could find your professional ability is judged by the state of your desk. 

This could affect your ability to work successfully with clients and could also affect your ability to gain promotions or pay rises.

You will also find that you find yourself constantly busy and feeling overworked, because much of your time is spent trying to find something you know is on your desk, somewhere!

Even if your desk is a home office that only you get to see, you might be amazed at how more effective you can be when you have a clean and tidy desk.

Here are some steps to get yourself organized, prevent the build-up of ‘stuff’ on your desk, and get yourself becoming more productive and of greater value to your employer.

1. Get a smaller desk

Yes, it could be that simple. 

If there is no room to stack files, you will have no choice but to put paperwork and files somewhere else, and I don’t mean in piles under your desk! If your desk only has enough room for a computer, a phone and a couple of pens, then it is hard to add anything more.

2. Only keep the essentials on your desk

If you only use a stapler once a day, keep it in a drawer. Papers and files you have finished working on should be put into filing cabinets immediately. If you must access it again later in the day, you could have a draw in your filing cabinet named something like ‘current’ and have it close to your desk.

Only keep the essential items on your desk like your computer, monitor, one or two pens and pencils, a lamp, highlighter, family photo, and a phone will usually do. 

3. Don’t duplicate

Do you really need 100 pens, 5 bags of paper clips, 3 staplers, etc.? 

Only keep as much as you will need in a single typical business day. The rest can be retained with all the office supplies, and when you run out of an item, or are getting close to needing a replacement, then you can collect if form the office supplies storage room.

4. Keep non-essentials in your desk drawer

If it a second item of something or an item you don’t use often during the day, instead of keeping it cluttering up your desk, put it in a desk drawer where it is out of the way until you need it.

Having a compartmentalized storage tray in a drawer can be helpful for keeping things organized and out of sight.

5. Hide it in plain sight

Introduce some color and style with attractive decorative storage trays, and cubes that can keep non-essentials out of the way while giving your desk some personality. When they are located close to your desk, you can quickly access anything when you need it.

6. Use your walls

A whiteboard or cork board where you can write your daily to-do list and other notes or can pin up reminder notes can be an effective way to keep lota of information about ongoing and upcoming work duties, without adding any clutter to your desk.

Because everything is written in front of you, you’re not wasting time looking for stuff 

Keep your floorspace clear by using hooks to hang things like bags and coats. Or have a shared coat rack nearby.

7. Files are your friend

Preparing files and then putting each related document into the file might seem to be below your paygrade, but it’s a simple method of keeping your workload well organized and can save you a lot of time.

But make sure it is something you or someone else will need to look at again. If not and there is no point keeping the document, don’t leave it in a pile on your desk for the next six months, and don’t waste time preparing a file for it, just get rid of it. Having a bin close by for documents that can be recycled in a good idea.

8. Go paperless

Make all your files digital files.

Have a system that easily classifies documents into specific files and folders. Scan documents then destroy or recycle the physical document/ take care to name each scanned document and place it in an appropriately named file and folder so that you can quickly and easily locate the document again when needed.

This will limit the need for physical file cabinets and for leaving documents or files on your desk.

9. Keep a shredder nearby (or a recycling bin)

Have one multi-tiered storage tray for incoming and outgoing mail. 

Instead of starting extra piles, once you open your mail, if you don’t need to keep the item drop it (and any envelopes) into the shredder or recycle bin immediately.

10. Schedule daily maintenance

If you are finding that sometimes you are not keeping up with the first nine steps, set an alarm on your phone for the same time each day as a reminder to spend 10 minutes to tidy your desk.

This will help you get into the habit of keeping your desk tidy and prevent documents and files from piling up over several days or weeks.

If you are used to having a messy, cluttered desk, these simple steps to change your bad office habits will have only positive effects on your work performance and how your colleagues and clients view you as a worker.