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These Rooms Are Made for Workin': How to Organize Your Workspace

Written by Seana Turner, PO.

There is an old saying, “The hardest part of doing a job is getting started.” Every wonder why? Sometimes the biggest hurdle to “just doing it” is the fact that our desks are so piled with books, sporting equipment, receipts, tangled cords, dead batteries, and bills that we can’t find a surface to work on! Sound familiar?

The truth is, if we want to motivate ourselves to get our work done, the least we can do is invest a little time in setting up a workspace that is inviting and efficient. Don’t know how? Here are a few tips to get you on your way:


1. Keep the desk clear. I often work in homes where the kitchen table is the preferred place for all household chores. The reason people gravitate here is because it is often the only large, clear surface in the house. Most people find it easier to “spread out” when working, where there is plenty of room for papers, books, the computer, and whatever else is needed. Trying to work on a desk or table that is covered with random cast-offs is enough to drive anyone crazy!

2. Lights, lights, action! Every work space needs adequate lighting. If there is no task lighting above your work surface, you need to get a desk lamp. Choose one that takes up a minimum of surface area, fits the décor of the rest of the room, and that you like!

3. Utilize your “prime real estate” wisely. What is prime real estate? This is any space you can access without having to get up from your chair. Typically this includes the desk surface, a filing drawer or two, a drawer for functional supplies, and maybe a bulletin board/magnetic board. If you have a larger space, or perhaps a chair with wheels (which is definitely a luxury!), you may have access to even more. The key is to put everything you need to get your work done within reach. If you have to walk across the room to put a file away, you are more likely to just pile it up somewhere nearby where it is sure to get stained, chewed by the dog or lost. If you have to go to another room to get the stapler, you are more likely to get distracted and end up satisfying a sudden urge for snacks.

Make sure to have at least one drawer that holds the essentials (pens, pencils, stapler, scissors, calculator, rubber bands, paper clips/binder clips, highlighter, tape, and post-its). If your work area doesn’t have a drawer, invest in a desktop caddy to hold these things. Put only a couple (not a boxful!) of each item in the drawer, and store the “back up” supplies elsewhere. I counsel clients to establish a dresser or closet where the extra supplies can be stored and accessed by everyone who needs them.

The rest of your area will be specific to YOU! If you are a decorator, you may need binders of swatches or samples. If you are in sales, having a system for contacts may be critical. The key here is that everything you own needs a home…you will NEVER get organized in a space that doesn’t have designated places for all of your items. Be specific, subdividing your drawers with sorters, so that each little item has its own spot.

4. Conquer the cord chaos. Today’s work stations inevitably involve a variety of devices which need electric power – and hence, the dreaded “spider web of cords”. There are plenty of solutions on the market today for corralling the cords and funneling them to an outlet below. Keep a multi-outlet surge suppressor behind or below your desk to which all cords flow.

5. Label like your life depends on it! The key concept here is making it so incredibly easy for you to return items to their home that even a first grader could do it (and hey, maybe you have a first grader who trollops through your workspace on a regular basis!) Put labels inside drawers, on power cords, at the bottoms of desk organizers, on your book shelves, and anywhere else you can think of. This is especially critical if your workspace is shared by others. By putting a label on a space or item, you are telling yourself that this item has a home, and you are committed to returning it to its home after each use.

6. “Dress” for success. Magazines long ago figured out how to make a room look appealing…plants, beautiful art, photos, perfectly placed lighting… these touches make us want to be in the rooms they are displaying. We need to do the same for our work spaces. Do yourself the favor of surrounding yourself with those things which inspire you. I keep a small plant on my desk which hides my pencil sharpener from view and gives me a feeling of nature even though I’m inside. Hang photographs of people or places you love where you can see them at a glance. Hang a token piece of memorabilia on your bulletin board to remind you why you work so hard.

7. Stop cleaning up! I tell my clients that after a work session, take a few minutes to restore order to your space. This doesn’t mean dashing around and shoving stuff in drawers just to make it “clean”… this is about putting everything back in its home. This is perhaps the best tip of the day, and one that will bring the best return to the investment you make in setting up your space.

Being organized won’t make your “to do” list any shorter, but it can make tackling the list a lot more pleasant. So take a few days or a weekend to make your work space a place where you won’t mind workin’.

Seana Turner, PO
Seana Turner, PO

Seana Turner is the founder & President of The Seana Method in Darien, CT. The Seana Method is a structured approach to organizing the three aspects of daily life: space, time, and responsibilities. Developed to erase the slate of self recrimination, The Seana Method designs life strategies that result in predictability, flexibility and joy. Vi.. Read more

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