The 3 Tenets of Desk Organization That Will Supercharge Your Time at Work

clean desk

If you aren’t already aware, your desk or office space says a lot about your brand. But your desk also has a major impact on your efficiency and work productivity.

Survey your coworkers’ desks. You’ll probably notice a few themes:

  • The Neat Freak – Nothing but an apple computer and a thermos.
  • The Controlled Mess – Stacks upon stacks of neatly organized papers.
  • The Disaster – Last week’s lunch still buried under debris.

Think back to when you took your driver’s license test. You adjusted your seat, put yourself at the proper distance from the steering wheel, buckled the seatbelt, adjusted the rear window, check the side windows, all before putting the key in the ignition. Everything had to be exactly in the right place – or else it was strike one. Your immediate surroundings dictate how you operate. Even if your desk layout allows you to locate files moments faster than a cluttered one, it’s that kind of organization that will make you feel less stressed at work. And it is the sum of small details that make the big impact, just like how fractions of a second make up horse races.

I’m often reminded of Jiro Ono and his sons. If you are looking for a documentary about dedicating yourself to your work and also want to feel like the laziest person in the world, I highly recommend you watch ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi.’

Jiro is an 85 year-old Sushi chef who cares for little else but his craft. His Michelin Thee-Star restaurant resides in a Tokyo subway station, and he wouldn’t move it if you paid him all the money in the world. Part of the reason is that he has optimized his work surroundings to the smallest of details – and if anything should change it would ruin the entire food preparation process and in his expert opinion, the diner’s experience. Even his son who opened his own restaurant has painstakingly recreated the layout of his father’s location, and inverted it to suit his left-handed needs.

Talk about being engrossed in your workspace.

So as you sit at your desk (home or office), examine your desktop and your surroundings. What small changes or optimizations can you make?

Ultimately, you should be thinking about 3 things for the perfect workspace: ergonomics, organization, and inspiration.


Cornell University Professor, Alan Hedge, has created an online database of research on ergonomics such as: workstation arrangement, health and comfort, and hardware and software solutions. The amount of details to consider when addressing your computer is amazing and have a strong impact on how you physically feel during the day. Below are some of the main factors to consider for an ergonomically-optimized workstation.

  • Desk height – are your arms angled to reach your keyboard and mouse? Adjust your desk/chair height to put your arms at a 90 degree angle from your body.
  • Chair – are you getting the proper lumbar support you need? Are you slouching/hunched forward? Or do you need to replace your chair with a yoga to help your posture? Hedge’s research suggests that a chair with a 90 degree angle is not ideal.
  • Computer height and placement – Do you arch your back forward so you can see your monitor? Do you like to keep your computer catty-cornered? Keeping your monitor directly in front of you eliminates the need to twist your neck or strain your body. You want to have your monitor high enough so that you do not need to look downwards or bend your neck to view the screen.


  • Bundle Wires – Tie together all the cables and chords that are making a mess and neatly pin them beneath you desk.
  • File Away – Keep papers and notes in cabinets or desktop-storage bins if you do not use them on a daily basis.
  • Phone Placement – Constantly talking on the phone? Keep the base station of your phone on the same side as the hand you use to hold the receiver.
  • Create Zones – Certain items on your desk are probably used with more or less frequency than others. Keep items used less frequently in the back corners or sides of your desk.
  • Daily Planner – Trouble sticking to your routine? Keep a daily planner on your desk to reference. Keep it close to your monitor so you can glance at it without disrupting your work flow.


  • Desk Top Items – No, not those metal, executive-office toys. Those clanging metal balls bouncing back and forth will put you to sleep. Think stress relievers – a stress ball to squeeze, or photos of your family to brighten up your day. Try to keep personal items at a minimum or they may become a distraction instead of an inspiration.
  • Go Green – Having some greenery will warm up the coldest office space. Find a low maintenance plant that doesn’t require too much sunlight.
  • Get Inspiration From Pinterest – See what the rest of the world is doing on Pinterest to find your perfect setup. Just remember to keep it professional if you aren’t optimizing your home office.

About the Author

Greg Olsten is Ivy Exec's Sr. Content Manager, producing Online Classes, and Executive Intelligence articles.