Take a close look at your desk. Would you describe it as sloppy with papers piled like a game of Jenga? Or is it streamlined with containers organized like the warehouse in an Ikea store?
When I was a professional organizer I worked with clients who hadn’t seen the tops of their desks (and in some cases their floors) for years. When one guy finally dug his way to the bottom of the piles, which was the top of his desk, he remembered how beautiful his desk was and why he had spent a small fortune on it.
When you work from home, the only people who are probably judging your desk are you, your friends and your family so does it matter whether or not it’s a mess? If clients visit your home office, you share a desk with your spouse, or the producers of Hoarders just sent you an email about being featured on their show, a cluttered desk could be an issue.
Consider whether one of these three desk descriptions fits you.
Desk #1 – Topsy-turvy and turbulent.
The top of your desk is piled high with magazines leaning like a four-layer wedding cake that’s been in the sun too long, unopened mail that has been sitting on your desk since the last two times the post office raised the price of stamps, and your office supplies are so old, you have boxes of ink cartridges for a printer you no longer own. That’s not all. You’ve trained your family, and by trained, I mean nagged, everyone under your roof to leave anything they want you to see on your chair. If it’s piled on your desk, there’s no chance in hell you’ll ever see it, at least not for a few months.
Your desk screams:
Congratulations! You’re more creative than the top pinner on Pinterest, but you seem a bit scattered like a squirrel at an international nut convention.
The goal isn’t to be a perfectionist or a neat freak like my neighbor who organizes her son’s Lego pieces by type and color into individual containers. Instead, create some order. Use desktop file holders for the files you’re working on now, store any old files you probably won’t refer to again in a file cabinet, or scan and store the files. Use stacking bins on the floor to hold materials for certain projects, and hang bulletin boards and wall pockets to help you get and stay organized. And then, the kicker, take a few minutes at the end of each week to clear out your home office and get ready for the next week.
Desk #2 – Slick and sparse
Your laptop, Smartphone and only a few supplies in containers (lined up by color and size) are on your desk while everything else is tucked away on shelves or in drawers. Years ago I worked with a guy whose desk was completely clear. Even his phone was in the bottom drawer of his desk. That’s taking organizing to a whole new (scary) level.
Your desk screams:
Only the bare essentials, thank you. Nothing on the walls, nothing on your desk and absolutely nothing on the floor. You’re working in the home office version of a cubicle.
Less is more, but you can always add more without creating a cluttered mess in your home office. Hang pictures of your family, pet, or friends on the wall and invest in interesting artwork. Add a colorful rug, especially if you have hardwood floors and if people on the other end of the phone ask if you’re calling from a cave. A plant wouldn’t hurt either…just remember to water it.
Desk #3 – Stacked and stodgy
You know where everything is because it’s stacked neatly in piles throughout your home office. You know what’s in each pile because you’ve sorted through them dozens of times looking for lost papers. Your broken printer is still in your office because you’re not sure whether to donate it, fix it or throw it out the window.
Your desk screams:
You have trouble making decisions, especially when it has to do with papers, anything that needs to be fixed, and what to order for dinner (judging by the piles of take-out menus on your desk). Magazines you want to read are stacked in one corner like a mini Leaning Tower of Pisa, while in another corner you’ve kept papers you’ve needed to file since you stopped using a fax machine.
Add a bookcase near your desk to hold magazines stored in magazine holders or get rid of magazines altogether and subscribe to the online versions. Keep extra supplies in your bookcase stored in colorful baskets or containers, or use a nearby closet for supplies. Make decisions about paper by filing them in physical files or scanning and creating electronic files. Use a To-Do list to enter any action you need to take with each piece of paper and then keep the paper in a desktop file on your desk or near your desk. Better yet, get rid of the piece of paper. The more paper you can recycle, the better.
A few simple tweaks can turn your desk from frumpy to functional or from stark to stylish. And some of you may find papers, checks, photos or other things you thought you’d never see again…like the top of your desk.