The Best Ways To Tidy Up Your Office Desk

According to Harvard Business Review, a clean and tidy workspace works wonders for boosting productivity and your mood. Working in a cluttered home office for long periods has worse side effects, like reduced decision-making skills, lower overall mood, and increased anxiety. A messy working environment can even cause stress in our relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Unfortunately, cortisol, the stress hormone, is found in larger quantities in workers with cluttered and messy spaces.

Individuals that spend more time working in clean, organized spaces tend to feel happier, be more productive and efficient with their time, and also have positive relationships with their colleagues. Cleaning off your desk is one thing, but keeping it tidy every day can be a difficult task. Whether you are naturally a neat freak or tend to be a little on the messy side, these tips will help you get more done and feel better doing it.

Invest in a personal shredder

When we need to dispose of documents containing our sensitive personal information, it can be hard to decide how to handle it. According to, properly disposing of these documents (bills, job applications, and anything containing your driver's license number, social security number, or bank account information) is the best way to protect yourself from identity theft.

Once you've paid your monthly bills, reviewed your paystubs, or finished your business with personal papers, it can be tempting to let these documents pile up. Even if you have a complex filing system, you don't need to keep most items over seven years. To save time, it's a good idea to invest in a personal paper shredder for your home office. Shredders are available at most office supply stores and are often small and discreet. Personal shredders are worth the investment as they keep your desk tidy and your information safe.

Download a scanning app

Scanning your documents and storing them on your computer or hard drive often means that you won't need to save the original paper copies. This way, you can reduce clutter on your desk. However, most people without scanners in their home office might not want to purchase one since they won't use it frequently or have enough storage space. According to Xerox, even if you work in an office with a scanner, there may be a line of people waiting to use it each day.

If you need to get things scanned quickly and securely, you probably already have what you need: a smartphone. There are dozens of easy-to-use scanning applications for iOS and Android users that use the phone's camera apps to create crisp, professional images (via The New York Times). Most of the big tech players have an option for you to choose from, including Adobe, Microsoft, and Google. Depending on your price point, you can purchase a scanning app separately or use it as part of a larger business software subscription.

Follow the Touch It Once method

By committing to touch each sheet of paper one time, you can avoid accruing piles of mess. According to CNBC, the "Touch It Once" rule is pretty simple to understand and implement into your daily work routine. When you open an email, review a bill, or are handed something by a colleague, act upon it immediately. However, this doesn't mean you have to drop everything to complete the task, especially if it's complicated.

For example, say you get the mail and see your energy bill. According to the "Touch It Once" rule, you should open the envelope, review the costs, and pay it immediately in the portal of your choice. You can then file or shred the paper copy. However, if you open the bill and then go back to whatever you were doing before, you'll then spend the next few hours, or even days, with an unpaid invoice, a pile of paper clutter on your desk, and the constant nag in the back of your mind that you need to get it done. Instead, save yourself the physical and mental clutter and take care of a paper as soon as you touch it.

Purge once a week

According to Better Homes & Gardens, there may be more bacteria on your office desk than in a public toilet, especially if it's a large office. In one survey, almost 25% of participants admitted they don't wash their hands during a typical workday (via Joblist). Yuck! Try to avoid the buildup of clutter and grime on your desk so that you (and your colleagues) stay healthy. Even if you work from home, desk hygiene is of the utmost importance.

Stay ahead of the curve by throwing away old receipts and wiping down your keyboard at least once a week, if not at the end of each workday. Use cleaning essentials like antiseptic wipes for this daily or weekly cleaning session and wipe down all high-touch surfaces, including your keyboard, mouse, desk, and phone. You'll also want to use a can of compressed air for removing dirt and grime from hard-to-reach places, like under the keys on your keyboard.

Don't try to multitask

Doing one task at a time will keep your desk (and your brain) tidier. According to Monster, multitasking during the workday isn't all it's cracked up to be. Working on more than one task at a time slows down your mind. If you are trying to answer an email about the quarterly report while reviewing financial documents, and then suddenly remember you have to organize lunch for your colleagues, your desk (and your brain) is going to be a disorganized mess.

Instead, Harvard graduate Kara Loewentheil recommends time blocking (via Un**** Your Brain). Instead of flitting from task to task and cluttering your desk, set aside a specific amount of time for each task. Whether you choose to work on the task to completion or simply devote 20 minutes to it each day, this trick will keep your desk, and your habits, more organized and boost your productivity.

Use a digital filing system

If you prefer to keep physical notes for yourself, that's fine. Just keep them all in one place, and don't scatter them across your workspace. It's even better to use a searchable app like Evernote or OneNote to keep things tidy and accessible. According to Karen Kingston, if you are prone to writing passwords, account numbers, or even the name of your favorite Thai place down on little scraps of paper, there is hope for you yet. You can start by collecting these notes and copying them into a notebook or physically pasting them inside the pages.

Even if you can collect all your scraps of information in one place or write everything in one notebook, you still have one problem: your notes are not searchable. Using a digital filing system is the best option because you can keep everything tidy and easily find what you need in a pinch. If you don't feel like paying for software or learning a new system, use a word processor like Word, Notes, or the Notes app on your phone. Write everything down digitally and back it up to the cloud so you can easily search for it later.

Invest in cable management

Keeping your cables under control instantly improves the appearance of your office desk. According to The Container Store, a great way to get started with cable management is to roll the cords from your laptop, lamp, printer, and phone together so that they aren't in a mess behind your desk. Use zip ties or painter's tape in a pinch. To keep things more organized, consider color-coding your cables. Use small pieces of tape, a swatch of nail polish, or another marker. This tip will prevent you from accidentally unplugging the wrong thing when adjusting your wires.

You can also use hooks to guide your cables down the wall instead of letting them hang freely (via PC Mag). Or use clips to keep cords flush with the back of your desk if you prefer. Finally, to source power for your electronic items, consider using a power strip instead of an in-socket expander for a tidier look.

Add shelving for more storage space

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, it's impossible to keep our desks tidy. We have too many electronics, books, files, and other supplies that we regularly use. If you've run out of space, consider purchasing floating shelves and placing them above your desk for better organization. These shelves are the perfect place to add cute decorations like plants or artwork.

According to Hunker, the first thing to consider is the height of your floating shelves. Think about whether or not you want to reach everything while sitting down. If this is the case, sit comfortably at your desk and extend your arm to determine the correct height. To place additional shelving units, pay close attention to symmetry (via DIY Inspired). Arrange shelving units equidistant from each other and anchor points (like the ceiling and door frame) to maintain a chic, organized look for your office.

Save space by nixing a desk lamp

If your desk is a little cluttered or you are simply short on space, consider removing your desk lamp. When combined with ambient light from overhead lighting or floor lamps, the backlight of our computers typically provides enough light for us to work effectively. Overhead lights are so easy to customize and control that they are the only source of light we need in a room.

According to Looney Lumens, there is an even better reason to ditch the desk lamp. Natural light is the best lighting source because it will not exhaust your eyes. If you have natural light in your office, place your desk near a window to utilize daylight hours. However, it's even more important to think about the kind of light you use to illuminate after the sun goes down. The tidiness of your desk won't matter if you are straining your eyes.

Purchase drawer organizers

It won't matter how clean and tidy your desktop is if the drawers are an absolute mess. To prevent your drawers from becoming a messy junkyard, purchase drawer organizers. These are a great way to maximize available space. According to The Strategist, these organizers come in different shapes, sizes, and materials. Whether you need to organize paper, office supplies, snacks, or a mixture of the three (plus, let's face it, probably some random junk), you're in luck. You will always be able to find an organizer that fits your style, budget, and space.

However, you don't need to use purpose-built containers for drawer organization (via Bob Vila). Plenty of baskets, containers, and other receptacles will work well if they fit the space. Using items you might typically find on a counter or shelf is a good idea if you only want to organize part of the drawer.

Limit eating and drinking at your desk

Avoid ruining your electronics and paperwork by keeping food and drinks away from your workspace. We know it's hard to start the morning without a trusted cup of coffee or eat lunch at your desk now and then. If you regularly eat and drink around your desk, it's best to know how to keep things tidy in advance. According to How-To Geek, you can avoid disaster if you spill liquid on your computer, phone, or tablet. First, power it off to prevent damage. This tip will give you more time to fix it or take it in for repairs.

Further, if you notice that your coffee mug has left a watermark on your desk, check to see if the ring is still white (via Better Homes & Gardens). If it's turned brown, you might need to consider refinishing or painting the wood instead of just cleaning it.

Separate your desk into specific sections

By dividing your desk into specific areas for the computer, phone, pens, and papers, you will create a designated spot for everything and a neater working surface. According to Bond Collective, it's best to set aside the middle of your desk for your computer since it's often the primary work tool. Next, if you have a landline at your desk, place it toward the back on the side of your dominant hand. This tip stops you from reaching across yourself and your work (and risk knocking over your coffee) to answer the phone.

Place any paperwork or other essential items in the corner of your desk opposite your phone, using space organizers to avoid a disorganized pile. Your personal effects, like family photos, a favorite water bottle, or a bowl of snacks, can be placed anywhere on your workspace, as long as it's convenient to you.

Put items away after you use them

To keep things clean while you work, try to put items away when you're finished with them and set aside a few minutes each hour to tidy up. According to High Speed Training, you can sort your cleaning into urgent and non-urgent categories. Spilled coffee is an urgent task to clean right away. It may be tempting to let things like dust or crumbs sit for longer. However, cleaning up these items as soon as you notice them will keep your workspace fresh.

In addition, experts recommend using the 20/10 method to keep your office desk tidy (via NBC News). To follow this method, set a timer for a predetermined time and then work on the task (cleaning up your workspace) for the duration. When the timer rings, you're done. Step away from the cleaning and finish up the rest next time. If keeping things tidy is a bit overwhelming, this might be a good option for you.

Place a trash can and recycling bin nearby

A great way to keep your desk tidy and do your part for the environment is to place a recycling bin next to your workspace. According to Trash Cans Depot, creating a designated place for recyclable items nearby makes recycling easier. Having a dual trash and recycling receptacle is a great idea. In addition to keeping your office greener, a nearby trash can stops you from hoarding trash in your workspace. It helps you throw away your trash quickly and easily.

Depending on your personal preferences and local environmental ordinances, you can organize your waste receptacles even more. For example, you might like to sort food waste from other garbage for compost or paper from plastic in your recycling. Keeping these options nearby will promote a clean, tidy, and waste-free workspace. To boost your mood and productivity, implement a recycling system in your office.