How to Declutter Your Desk

Organizing your desk is a pain, but it doesn’t have to be. With a few simple steps, you can keep your desk tidy and organized for good. Here’s a simple method that will help you get started.

Facing Your Mess

Look at your desk for a second. What do you see?

Piles of printouts?
Dozens of pens lying around?
Cables everywhere?

No? Not even a wall full of old post-its? Okay, you can stop reading then.

If your desk does look like a bewildering mess, come a little closer and listen up. Together, we are going to declutter your desk, replace old habits with new ones, and make work a more pleasant experience.

To do so, we will use the 5S method. 5S stands for Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Ready to dive in?

Step 1: Sort

First, we need to separate the useful from the useless stuff. Most of us find it difficult to admit that we are holding on to items we no longer need.

  1. Create a temporary storage space, preferably away from your desk.
  2. Move all of the items from your desk to the new storage space. Without exceptions!
  3. Optional: attach a paper label to each item and write today’s date on it.
  4. Go to your empty desk and get back to work. Most likely, you won’t be able to.
  5. Take an item out of storage and back to your desk only if you need it now. Leave everything else in storage, even the item you may need in an hour.
  6. Repeat this over the next few weeks until you are able to do your job without having to grab an item from storage.
  7. Eventually, revisit your storage space to inspect all of the unused items.
  8. Either throw away these unused items or archive them permanently.

Step 2: Set in Order

Once you’ve successfully sorted your items, we should decide what goes where on your desk. These micro-decisions matter more than you may think.

  • Which items do you use the most? Are they easiest to reach and operate?
  • When do you switch to the other items? Can you make that switch effortless? For instance, by placing a notepad on the side of your writing hand.
  • Would it help to group certain items for certain tasks, and place these items in a particular order?

Step 3: Shine

After sorting and arranging the essential items, we have to clean your workspace. I know that scrubbing your desk is probably the job of a janitor. However, you should at least be involved in the process. Because cleaning reveals issues you may have overlooked.

  • What is the state of your desk and the items on it? Does anything need maintenance or replacement to prevent unexpected breakdowns and downtime?
  • What enhancements to your workspace would boost your productivity? For example: moving the power outlet for easier access, adding blinds to reduce screen glare, or adjusting your monitor height.

Step 4: Standardize

With the steps taken so far, your workspace should look highly organized. But, as time passes, we tend to slip into old habits. Clutter will build up again. Unless we do something about it.

  • Have you taken notes of your decisions and changes for future reference? Does it help to take a before-and-after picture?
  • How will you stick with your new habits and routine? Do you need a daily checklist? Do you need to block time on your calendar for regular upkeep?
  • Are more people using your desk and the items on it? Is it clear to everyone where to find and return each item? Do you need to add labels or other visual markers?

Step 5: Sustain

Finally, when your desk is organized and standard procedures are in place, we must foster an environment where everyone is involved and stays committed to 5S.

  • Are you the only one applying 5S, or is it also catching on among co-workers?
  • Does management understand the benefits of 5S? Are they facilitating?
  • Are new employees shown the ropes of 5S?
  • Do you continue to explore new ways to apply 5S?

Wrap Up

So there you have it, the roadmap to a more organized workspace. Embrace the 5S method to change your cluttered desk into a place where things run smoothly. Good luck elevating your workday experience and getting more done!

Rogier van de Zande
Rogier van de Zande

With over 20 years of experience in the corporate world, I help organizations with customer engagement, project management and team coaching. I hold a college degree in business information. And I’m a certified Lean Green Belt and Agile Scrum Master.