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How to Set Up Your Office Desk

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A tidy office desk is the foundation of an efficient work flow. But it's not enough to clean your work space once. The constant stream of work can cause a mountain of stray papers and used coffee cups to build up in a short amount of time. It's important to plan and develop a system to keep an efficient set-up.

Mentally divide your desk by the rule of thirds, both lengthwise and widthwise. Position your computer to dominate a side third of the desk. Place a file organizer to the other side and to the back. Line up office supplies, such as a stapler or paper clip receptacle, along the back third of the desk. Leave the rest of the desk space open for writing or paperwork.

Tie your computer cables together with a fabric fastener, such as Velcro. This minimizes the messy web of wasted space created by even the most basic external hardware for computers.

Figure out what side of the desk you favor for paperwork. This will probably be determined by whether you are right- or left-handed. For example, if you are right-handed, you will want your computer on the left third of the desk so that you can write on the right two-thirds. This will feel more natural than working on the opposite side. Keep your file organizer and file cabinet on this side of the desk, over and under respectively.

Sort papers into your stackable file organizer. Keep items you are actively working on in the short term here. Label each organizer for each category of papers. Move completed paperwork that's not being passed on to someone else to your file cabinet.

Keep papers and research materials you don't immediately need in a file cabinet under your desk. Label files specifically for easy access of paperwork.

Keep a wastebasket under your desk so you can immediately dispose of unneeded materials. Line the wastebasket with a garbage bag and dump it whenever it's full. If possible, keep a recycling bin nearby for paper waste.


Schedule a day to tidy up your desk for regular maintenance. Maintain your work flow by leaving a sticky note of your next day's first task on your computer monitor before you leave work. Keep your drinks on a single coaster and leave your snacks next to it.


Don't assume setting up a system once will guarantee a good desk space forever. Think about what's working for you and adjust as needed.