Organization Skills – How to Organize Your Desk

Organization skills on the workplace can be very positive for your career. This article explains how to plan and organize your desk, work easier, find things fast and be productive.

Organization Skills - How to Organize Your Desk

Good organization skills bring not only order to you life, but also allow you to be more productive by reducing clutter and helping you find fast what you are looking for. Organizing your desk (at work, in your workplace at home or just at home) is one of the vital steps. Organizing things on the outside could often help you organize things on the inside.

When I start a new job, I always start at organizing my computer/laptop first. But immediately after that I start organizing my desk. Why is that important to me? Well first of all, you find things easier. Second of all, it helps others think highly of you and perceive you as an organized (and reliable person), which is beneficial. And last but not least, it gives you a safe spot among the whole chaos of starting a new job.

I usually re-organize my desk even when I am in a new position within the same company. Or just regularly throughout the year. Throwing garbage out is equally important as organizing what you really need.

Time to read

Time to read: 12 minutes (based on 150 wpm)

Where (and how) should you start?

Whenever you start, it is already too late. I usually think about organizing my desk at least on the third day. The first two days are usually full of meeting, introductions, account setup, hardware setup and so on. But when you come on your third day (this may vary for the different organization and industries), it is a good time to start thinking about it.

You should already have a good impression of what is (or would be) important. And also what is not important. Good organization skills means taking the time to think about the setup in advance, or before you actually need it.

You should start from scratch (clean desk). If you have a keyboard or laptop that are not brand new, then take some time to clean them. If your desk does not look clean, also think about cleaning it. When you are re-organizing then get everything out (including the drawers) and move it away so that your desk it totally empty.

Defining the Most Important Items (MII-s)

If there is no term MII, then I just coined it. 🙂 This step would largely depend on what you are actually doing. From my point of view (coming from IT background), that would be the laptop, the monitor and the other hardware. It could be a good idea to do this several times during your first year, because you can get a better of idea of what you need as time progresses.

My MII-s

  • The big monitor – this is where most of what I do will take place. You could have additional monitors later on, but you should designate one of them as main.
  • Laptop + cables / docking station – the laptop is the next important item. I need easy access to the cables in case I need to remove it and go to a meeting.
  • Headphones – working in open space areas can be difficult for people that are not audio oriented (those that speak and hear easier than read and write). So a headphone (with a noise canceling function) is a must.
  • Open space – this would be the place where I will keep paper documents on which I am working and where generally I can stretch and do what I have to do.
  • Personal spot – this is where I put some personalization (in my case pictures of my family). You should keep that area minimal to reduce distractions.
  • Drawer – this is where I will put stuff that does not need my immediate attention. I will throw everything inside it, that I have not used in 6 months or more.
  • The place for my bottle with water – I am a huge fan of proper hydration during the day. On a busy day I could drink as much as 3 liters. So I need the bottle to be: a) easy to get; and b) always there so that it can remind me.

Other ideas for MII-s

These are just a few ideas of MII that you could define:

  • Paper trays – if you are working with my paper documents, then you would need trays for them. Depending on your needs, you could organize them into incoming/outgoing; by priority; by company division.
  • Phone – if you are often on the phone, then you should put it somewhere within reach. If you tend to stay too long on the phone, then it should be somewhere that allows you to talk and still see your monitor and sit comfortably.
  • Pen organizer – if you have to write often, then your pens should also be within immediate reach. If you need more colors, then make sure they are all present. Resupply before you actually need to.
  • Second monitor, tablet – any external device that helps you do better what you are supposed to do. In case of a monitor, they could be adjacent to one another. If you need a tablet, then put it somewhere so that it can stay erect.

Nice to have lifehacks for desks

So far in my career, I have found the following lifehacks to make your life easier:

  • Cable holders – as a mac user without docking station, I always get frustrated when one of my cables falls to the ground and I have to chase it. This is why I always use cable holders.
  • Pins for the walls around you – most modern desks usually come equipped with walls on which you can pin stuff. This could be a good place to hang your diplomas, or the corporate mission statement.
  • Jar organizer – this would be difficult to explain without a picture, but basically these are several jars glued together and put horizontally. This allows easy access to any kind of the pens, pencils, staples and so on.
  • Drawer dividers – so that you can keep even your drawer organized.

Put your organization skills in use and arrange everything

After you have defined you MII-s, you probably have a good idea of what should go where. But in any case you would need to put some organization skills to arrange the items on your desk.

  • Your monitor should be in the center of the desk. If possible slightly elevated so that you don’t have to look down.
  • Your laptop should be either below your monitor or slightly to the left (or to the right if you are a leftie).
  • The keyboard and mouse should be in front of the monitor.
  • The white space should be right of them (or left if you are a leftie).
  • On the back edges of the desk you could put your phone (I usually put it way back on the right); and the paper trays (I would put it back on the left); or your personal space (photos and stuff).
  • On the front edges you could put your supplies (keep them limited to reduce clutter); or your bottle; or anything else.
  • I typically put my headphones on my right with the cable going behind the monitor. The plug is on my left, somewhere close to the laptop. A cable holder for it could be a good idea.

What should NOT be on your desk

Good organization skills also means removing the items that you don’t need. Be careful and put away any potential distractions.

  • Your private phone should ideally stay inside the drawer to reduce distractions.
  • Your wallet should also stay somewhere hidden. Just make sure you don’t forget it when you go back home.
  • Anything else that shines, beeps or could distract you in any way. 🙂 All that is gold does not glitter

Tips for keeping everything the way your arranged it

And last but not least, a few tips that would (hopefully) make your life easier and would allow you to keep everything organized.

  • Start every day by revising the current condition of the desk and redistribute if needed.
  • Throw away what you don’t need.
  • Keep your drawer organized. Use a labeler if needed.
  • Keep the white space clear and establish zones for your typical tasks.
  • Designate a space where new items should be put, until you have time to decide where they belong.
  • Keep the piles to a minimum and take time to eliminate (or reduce them) as often as possible.
  • Designate a storage area for things that you might need, but you do not need at the moment.
  • Question your paradigm often and look around you for new ideas.

Other ideas for developing organization skills

You can develop your organization skills in many ways, but these are just a few ideas:

  • Email Organization – How To Organize Your Inbox – how to make sure you don’t ever miss an email and that you can always find the email you are looking for.
  • Wardrobe organization – how to make sure you don’t waste time picking your clothes in the morning.
  • File organization – how to organize your files on your hard drives.

Recommended items

Organization skills only is nothing without the proper tools. The following section lists all the items that I am using, with affiliate links. I encourage you to check them out but buy them on your own risk. If you like any of the items and you could imagine making a good use of it, buying it from the links below would help our site grow at no extra cost for you.


These are the headphones that I am using. Nice, simple and relatively cheap. The noise cancelling is not optimal, but the price/quality ratio is pretty good.

Cable holders

Easy to install, easy to remove cable clips.

Water bottle

Plastic and easy to clean. Holds a little less than 1 liter. I usually drink 1 bottle after I wake up, another one between 9:00 and 11:00 and another one in the afternoon between 14:00 and 16:00.

Drawer organizer

Simple and small, it does not hold much stuff, but helps a lot in organizing pens, pins, clips and other stuff.

Paper trays

Nice, simple and elegant. If you label them, you would get the most benefit. For example: Incoming, Important, To Send, To Review.


Organization skills in the office is one of the things that could have a great impact on your career. Studies show that even though there are deeper motivators along the way, the first impression is what imprints in the mind of people that pass by your desk. What would you think about a desk of a colleague filled with piles of paper? Exactly! What about a desk filled with old coffee mugs?

Keeping your life organized on the outside helps you feel organized on the inside (even if you are normally not). And if you feed organized on the inside, then you self-confidence will be higher and your capacity for unknowns will also be higher. After all, you have a safe spot where you can always go to deal with the current issues (your desk).

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3 thoughts on “Organization Skills – How to Organize Your Desk”

  1. As I work from home, I have built up a little supply area around my desk that includes all of the supplies and tools I will need during the day including a trashcan! I have always hated clutter on my desk, it just makes it look messy and makes finding things difficult. I will try to get nice, colourful, healthy plant right away 🙂

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for sharing! 🙂

      This was exactly my idea when I was working from home.

      To follow up on your idea about the clutter: this is why I was so happy with 4-5 paper trays. It is so easy to organize them (incoming, important, documents, archive) and it reduces clutter a lot.

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