7 Tips for Keeping a Clean Desk

I recently learned that January 11 (or the second Monday in January) was National Clean Your Desk Day. So I thought this week would be a great time to share some tips on maintaining a clear and clean desk or workspace.

Especially if you work at home, it’s easy for home life to spill over into work life. That can lead into clutter buildup, and that in turn can clog up your productivity. It’s one thing to clean off your desk once a year or month or even week, but it’s another to keep up a habit of maintaining that clean desk.

So whether the top of your desk almost never sees the light of day, or whether you regularly get fed up with the clutter and clear it off only to watch it accumulate again within days, here are some tips to help you get it clean and keep it clean.

1. Start with a Totally Clean Desk (Remove Everything)

Especially if you’re overwhelmed by the amount of stuff on your desk, a great first step is just to remove everything. This enables you to see it all in a different light (literally and figuratively) and helps you think twice before just putting it all right back. It’s also a great opportunity to give the whole thing a good dusting.

2. Focus on the Necessities

As you start to place items back on the desk, ask yourself what you really need at hand in order to function. Start with those items, and place them in a way that makes the most sense. What do you use most often? What do you only use on occasion? The most-used items should be the most easily accessed, and those items that are rarely used probably don’t need to be taking up the space.

Clean desk with monitor, keyboard, glasses, and pens


3. Add Joy & Interest

Even though the necessities are by definition most important to have, it’s also important to have things nearby that make you happy. You need to enjoy your workspace if you’re going to enjoy working there. So if an item doesn’t necessarily play an important functional role but it does make you smile every time you see it, don’t hide it away.

Something that adds joy or interest to your workspace is adding value. The key is not to have too many nonfunctional items crowding each other out, because then you probably won’t be able to enjoy all of them. Consider spreading them throughout your home, or rotating them out.

4. Remember Convenience

As I began to organize my space, a mistake I found myself making was to put some things out of sight when they shouldn’t have been. Remember that every step you have to take to begin an activity (for example, opening a drawer, moving items aside, pulling supplies out of different locations, etc.) is another barrier you have to overcome before you can begin that activity.

If there’s an activity you want or need to do but you already have mental blocks keeping you from regularly doing that activity, try to eliminate as many other blocks as possible. This might mean keeping the supplies on top of the desk, or in a drawer right next to you, or on a shelf nearby — whatever makes it easiest for you to follow through with that activity.

5. Organize the Insides Too

Don’t just stuff things out of sight in drawers or boxes — that’s only moving the clutter around. A truly clean desk is one that is clutter-free and convenient inside and out.

Even though you can’t see the clutter when it’s stashed away, you know it’s there. As a result, you may find yourself avoiding opening that drawer, or just shoving more things in there instead of putting them where they actually go.

Organized and clean desk drawer

6. Give Everything a Home

This step is crucial if you’re going to maintain the clear space. Every item on, in, and around the desk must have a specific place where it belongs. Otherwise, things will get left out and piled up again and again. (See point 5.)

We like things to be easy. And when you already have a ton of decisions to make in your work, deciding where to place that random paper or office supply isn’t going to be high on your priority list. If everything already has a designated home, you don’t have to make a decision about where to put it. Less thinking, less effort, easier cleanup.

7. Schedule a Regular Time to Clean the Desk

Make time on a regular basis for maintenance, and schedule it into your calendar and/or routines. I find it works best to have two categories here:

1. A daily (or at least a few times a week) tidy. Return every item to its home, wipe off the desktop, and find a home for any new items accumulated.

2. An occasional (weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, etc.) deep clean. Remove everything again and clean off the surface. It’s a great time to go through this list again and see if there’s anything that needs a new home or that can be gotten rid of altogether.

If every item already has a home, you don't have to decide where to put it.

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