5 Insanely Simple Ways to Banish Your Messy Desk Forever

Five professional organizers offer their best tips for clearing your desk and boosting your productivity.

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By Stephanie Vozza


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While a cluttered desk is said to be a sign of a creative mind, more often it's just a mess that needs to be cleaned up. Ninety-three percent of small- to medium-business owners believe an organized office or desk leads to increased productivity, according to Office Depot's monthly small business index survey, yet 75% wish their workspaces were more organized.

To help you get things done, we asked five organizing experts to share their best tip for creating a productive workspace. Here's what they said:

1. Think of your drawers as a hierarchy of importance.
The closer the drawer is to you and to your dominant hand, the greater its importance, says Maxwell Ryan, founder of Apartment Therapy, a website that offers tips on keeping homes organized. Keep the tools that are the foundation of your tasks – such as pens, pencils, stapler, binder clips, and index cards – available in the top-most drawers for quick retrieval.

"Be very selective about the items you put here," he says. "When everything is important, nothing is."

2. Keep only what you need.
Put all of the office supplies that are on and near your desk in a box. For a week, track the items you pull from the box and pay attention to what you use most frequently, suggests Sara Skillen, founder of SkillSet Organizing in Nashville, Tenn.

"This method will give you a good idea of what your true supply needs are," she says. "You'll know what should be on or in your desk, and what can be stored in a cabinet or closet."

3. Get rid of the in/out box.
A horizontal in/out box only creates a neat pile on your desk, says Melissa Picheny, founder of Declutter + Design in New York City. "Papers still get lost or misplaced in piles," she says.

Instead, Picheny suggests that you replace it with a vertical step file holder, which sits on your desktop and holds important papers in a vertical stack. Because it's stepped, files in the back are still visible. "Use it to store papers you want to keep at your desk or papers you haven't had a chance to file away just yet," she says.

4. Routinely purge your papers.
Eighty percent of what we own is never looked at again, says Debbie Williams, productivity coach and founder of Common Sense Organizer: "When you purge outdated items, you free up your workspace," she says.

Sort through the papers on your desk and file or handle them. When it comes to filing, there are two basic types, says Williams: archives and current. Archive files contain legal and tax papers. They should be kept separate from current files, which include items such as receipts, warranties, instruction manuals, reference material, and client information. Williams suggests getting rid of anything that you haven't needed in the past two years, with the exception of tax and legal documents, which should be kept for seven years.

5. Use color cues.
In a home office it can be challenging to keep home and work paperwork from mingling. To eliminate confusion, assign a file color for work and a color for home, says Holly Bohn, creative director of See Jane Work, a website that offers office organization products.

"If red is your work color, you'll notice quickly if you've left a work file behind," she says. "It won't be about checking labels, just looking for that certain color."

Stephanie Vozza

Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer who has written about business, real estate and lifestyle for more than 20 years.

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