Harvard Business Online

Organizing Your Workspace


Posted on Work Smarter: June 1, 2009 2:27 PM As you pilot your way through the business day, your workspace is your cockpit. If you can't see the gauges or reach the controls quickly and efficiently, you're in trouble. Luckily some simple organizing techniques can make your desk, cubicle, or office more conducive to higher levels of productivity. Clear the deck. Your elbows and your brain need room to do what they do best, so you've got to clear away the clutter. Those spontaneous piles of miscellaneous paperwork, the boxes of stuff tossed in the corner, the tchotchkes from last year's convention? They've all got to go. "Out of sight, out of mind" is the directing principle here. Put away (even better, throw away) anything you don't need to be thinking about on a daily basis. As for the stuff you do need, choose a sensible place for it—all of it—and commit to keeping it there. Once you do that, putting away an item requires no thought or decisions. Keep only frequently-used items within reach. Split your workspace tools and current paperwork into two categories: what should be within arm's reach and what shouldn't. Right now, as you sit at your desk, consider every single item that you can reach out and touch. Is there anything you use less than a few times a week? Get it out of your way. (Hint: If it's dusty, it doesn't need to be there.) Is there anything you use often that's not right nearby? Relocate it to the space right in front of you. For example, if you rarely use the hole punch, store it in the office supplies drawer. If you're always jotting things down, a fresh notepad and uncapped pen should be next to your mouse pad. Set up a landing strip. Every day you arrive in workspace with the same items—a cell phone, briefcase and/or purse, mail, keys, change. Make a "landing strip" where you can drop your stuff when you come in and out (maybe with an extra cell phone charger and change cup). If incoming paperwork or mail makes its way to your desk or chair each day, use an inbox to "catch" it. Clear out this inbox and file, recycle, or otherwise process everything in it every day. Store related items together. Reduce the amount of time you spend hunting for tools by grouping items by task. Keep the stamps near your envelopes, pens near notepads, fresh folders near the filing cabinet, ink near the printer, shredder near the recycling bin, and so on. This is the most obvious piece of organizing advice in the world—until you've got a letter to mail and can't find the stamps. Make yourself comfortable. You spend the majority of your waking hours in your workspace, so it's worth investing in a comfy chair and desk at the right height, a mouse and keyboard that's easy on your hands and wrists, and even a widescreen monitor (or two) to make long hours at the computer gentler on your eyes and bodies. Beware of fancy office products that claim to be more ergonomic than others; your gauge is your body. Pay attention to the way you work and adjust as needed. After your initial reorganization, keep an eye out for recurring tasks you can do more efficiently in your workspace. If you often need space to spread out paperwork, get a keyboard drawer or L-shaped desk that gives you that room. If you have a laptop you take with you, get yourself an extra power cord or dock for easy plugging and unplugging. If you refer to paperwork while you type, get yourself a monitor-mounted document clip. One right-handed university dean told me that she taught herself to mouse with her left hand so she could jot notes at the same time with her right. Some of the most effective (but less obvious) tweaks you can make in your workspace depend on your work style and needs.
Gina Trapani is the founding editor of Lifehacker.com, a daily blog on software and personal productivity. Gina also authored a book based on the website which is in its second edition: Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better (Wiley, 2008). Her articles have appeared in Popular Science, Wired, Women's Health, PC World, and Macworld magazines.

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