[guestpost]Kathryn Brown is a productivity coach and systems strategist. She helps small business owners leverage their time and expertise, and streamline and scale with systems so they can work less and live more. Before creating her own business in 2014, she provided management-level training and served on the leadership team responsible for ISO certification for a tech company. She was school improvement co-chair for compliance and certification as a professional development and technology coordinator for a local school. Today, Kathryn offers workflow and systems design, goal setting and achievement strategies, and work life balance integration to the small business owner. You can find out more on Kathryn's website here[/guestpost] Systematize Your Desk and Maximize Your Productivity

Want to “find” extra time every time you’re at your desk? The best way to achieve this is by intentionally creating a workspace that works for you!

In today’s post, I wanted to share an easy-to-implement system with you that you can complete this weekend. Let’s systemize your desk and maximize your productivity!


As a productivity consultant, I hear from my clients that their desks actually distract them.

  • The temptation to de-clutter instead of work comes on so strong, they just can’t concentrate for any length of time.
  • I know that when my desk is cluttered, so is my brain!
  • In fact, I will move to a different space and do my work somewhere else if I feel stifled at all by paperwork or items that just haven’t been put away.

You may have experienced this yourself.

  • Your desk has everything you might need at a moment’s notice.
  • It may not look cluttered at all; it might, from an outsider’s perspective, appear perfectly functional “as is.”

But you know better, don’t you?

  • When you go to find something, you aren’t able to find things quickly.
  • It’s frustrating and time-consuming and you know that there has to be a better way.

So what’s a busy entrepreneur to do?

  • Systematize it of course!
  • Let’s dive in!

Step 1: The before and after

  • As with all improvement processes, let’s start by taking a few pictures to capture it in its current state (clutter and all).
  • Don’t be tempted to “tidy up” ahead of time.
  • You really do want to have a true “before and after” to showcase!

Step 2: What’s working and what isn’t working

Reflection is a key component to systematizing any process, and that’s also true with reflecting on what is working with your current desk set up and what isn’t.

Here are a few journaling prompts to get you started:

What’s working right now? 

  • What do you love that you don’t want to change?
  • Why does it work for you?

What isn’t working as it is?

  • It takes too long to find _______________________.
  • I wish it was easier to _________________________.
  • It’s uncomfortable when I
  • There’s never enough _________________________.

Step 3: Consider the spaces you admire

Think about the work spaces/desk areas you have pinned or placed on a vision board:

  • Make a list of the qualities they have in common.
  • Identify what attracts you to those specific qualities.
    • How do they make you feel?
  • What is one quality (could be an item, a look and feel, an organizational tool) that you could incorporate into your work space right now that would help you feel closer to that “ideal” space?

Now, it’s time to dig into the real work!

How you proceed here is a personal choice.

  • I’ve had success by removing EVERYTHING from my desk, wiping it clean and then going through the next steps.
  • This strategy is perfect if you can block off time over a weekend and know that you can be “back in working order” by the beginning of your work day on Monday.
  • An alternative strategy is to set aside about 15 minutes each day and walk through the process in smaller chunks of time.
  • Either way will work, but the way you work it will depend on your unique situation!

Step 4: Take an inventory of what’s on your desk right now.

Consider each item and ask:

  • Does it work?
  • Does it have a “home”?
  • Do you like it?
  • Was it put away?
  • When was the last time you used it/how many times a day/a week did you reach for this item?
  • Does it need to be on your desk right now?
    • If yes, what purpose or function does it serve?
    • If no, why is it there?
  • How does having it on your desk right now feel to you?

Step 5: Do a “use audit”

You may find that doing an audit for the next few days might shed some light on your usage patterns:

  • What items you use
  • When you use each item
  • How frequently you use each item
  • What item(s) you use before and after

Step 6: Make a home for it

Every item, big or small, needs to have a designated home where it goes at the end of every work day.

  • Again, your personal style will come into play here – are you a minimalist and prefer very few items on your desk?
  • Or, do you prefer your space to have a personal flavor and like to see attractive containers to hold your items?

Personally, I like some things in plain sight.

  • Favorite pen, pencil, and highlighter.
  • A few inspirational books.
  • Some personal momentos.
  • Sticky notes and note pad.
  • Paper clips, scissors, and stapler.
  • Oh, and washi tape!

Other items don’t need to be in plain sight.

  • Anything that needs to be filed (no clutter please!)
  • Extra supplies of any kind.

Step 7: Create an environment that’s appealing

What items encourage your creativity and productivity?

  • Fresh flowers
  • Candle/incense
  • Music
  • White noise
  • Art work
  • Natural light
  • Open windows
  • Ceiling fan

Step 8: Document “the after”

  • Just like we did at the beginning of the process, take a few pictures of the after and if possible, print them out and have them close by (to remember what it should look like!).
  • Capture how you feel knowing your desk/work area is more in alignment with how you feel and how you work!

Tips for implementation and ongoing maintenance:

  • Limit the items on your desk to those that you need in order to complete the work.
  • Create containers to hold the items you reach for most often and situate those closest to you.
  • Give every item a home.
  • Create a habit/ritual of clearing your desk before you end each day.
    • Set it up with the first thing you’ll work on when you start work the next day.
  • Schedule a desk “refresh” each quarter to run through this process again.
    • You may decide this is a recurring task that belongs on your monthly maintenance checklist.
  • Remove items that are broken or no longer serve you and either toss them out or donate them if they are still functional.

As with all implementations, it takes time and effort to build the capacity to maintain a new process.

One of the most successful ways to do this is by blocking off 15 minutes at the end of every work day to “reset” your workspace and prepare it for another successful and productive day!

Join the Conversation

Questions: Do you have an organised workspace or do you lose time hunting around for things on your desk? What tips do you have to systematize your desk and maximize your productivity? I love to read your feedback so please share your thoughts in the comments box below. 

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I’m Denyse Whillier, a London based business coach and consultant. I guide entrepreneurs from across the globe to achieve profitable, scaleable growth and create businesses that are Built To Succeed™. Built To Succeed™ is my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, 25 years’ experience at senior leadership and managerial level and training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK's leading business school. It's this background that sets me apart and helps my clients to get BIG results.

I’d love to start a conversation. Simply use this link to arrange an informal Skype coffee chat. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching (or business consultancy).