Whether you work in a home office, an office suite or a store, you want the space to look as professional as you.
"When people see an office that's messy, there's an assumption that you're not on top of your work," says Linda Samuels, a certified professional organizer in Westchester, N.Y. "A messy desk can give a very bad first impression." What to do first? It's simple. Corral your papers, find ways to contain your clutter, and whatever you do, keep the kids' drawings out of your workspace.
As you get started tidying up, here are five ways to keep your office looking spiffy -- and stylish products to help get you there:
1. Box up must-keep documents. Mountainous piles of papers cost you valuable time as you look for specific documents, and they also contribute to a disorderly look. These stackable boxes ($19.95 each), which come in such cheery colors as mimosa and turquoise, offer a stylish storage option.
How it helps: "By using each [color] for a different purpose, you've sorted them by category," Samuels says. "That pre-thinking allows you to get to something sooner because you've already determined what's in each container."
TIP: Use one box for invoices and one for contracts, or reserve a single bin for each of your clients.
2. Banish desktop clutter. As much as you might want to go entirely paperless, there are still inevitably some important papers you want to have within reach. Still, you don't want them spread out all over your desk. If this is your office dilemma, consider the bright-white Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery Stack + Fit Drawer ($23.99). Then, create your own organization system by stacking a tray or two on top.
How it helps: "Having multiple trays divided by different topics or categories of action organizes the action," Samuels says. "These trays help you prioritize the things that need immediate attention from the ones that can wait.
TIP: Also, you can use the drawer to store a small set of office supplies that you use daily.
3. Find time to file. Filing is something every entrepreneur dreads. To stay on top of this must-do task, you might consider the graceful looking Stratford Desktop Sorter ($12.25). With its four wide slots, this desktop accessory (available in white or black) has a spot for everything.
How it helps: "This sorter is great for keeping at your fingertips the project/action files you reach for frequently," Samuels says. "It can sit on your desk or on a surface behind your desk, keeping your desktop clutter-free. Best of all, priority files are visible and reachable."
TIP: Group projects or types of documents (bills, invoices, receipts) into specific slots. Also, consider using the front slot to display your business cards or brochures.
4. Seek out space for odds and ends. Your office can easily get messy if you don't have set places for your phone charger, iPad cord or reading material. These felt storage boxes ($16 to $29, depending on size) offer a convenient place to store those miscellaneous items. Bonus feature: They're soft and sturdy and can be monogramed for an additional $7.
How it helps: "These are great for stowing catalogs and magazines and can sit on the floor, a ledge or on your bookshelf," Samuels says. "They might also work for grouping bulky materials for specific projects like samples or oversized binders. These keep your important items accessible, but contained."
TIP: Label these boxes by writing the category on an index card (i.e. To Read or Gadget Accessories) and then attach the card with a binder clip or clothespin.
5. Create an off-the-desk management system. If you work better by moving around during the day, a good choice for you might be these white steel double-decker files ($25) that attach to your office wall.
How it helps: "Wall files can be used to communicate with your staff," Samuels says. "For example, they're a great way to help route things or get your team motivated in the morning. You can ask them to head right to these bins in the morning and collect their important work for the day."
TIP: Samuels suggests labeling these bins for tasks to be completed on certain days, or by work status, such as outgoing, follow-up, pending or HOT.
Lambeth Hochwald is a freelance journalist, whose stories have appeared in magazines such as Coastal Living, O The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple and Redbook. She is also an adjunct professor at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.