A clean desk isn't always a prerequisite for great ideas--in fact, some people hypothesize that messy people are fantastic innovators who are too busy thinking up great stuff to worry about straightening up their mess. But sometimes it's nice to have a space that's free from distraction, with everything ready to go, quick to find and within reach. And if you've got five minutes, an orderly workspace absolutely can turn into reality.

1. Toss the trash.

Yesterday's plastic lunch container. The packaging from the pens you opened in your hurry to a meeting. Post-Its with now-meaningless reminders. Recycle whatever you can and get the rest in the garbage. This might seem like an obvious step, but sometimes our habits can desensitize us to the amount of trash right in front of us.

2. Give stuff back.

Kudos to your teammate for letting you borrow their stapler, but don't let other people's tools take over your space. Return files, cables and everything else that doesn't belong to you and that has no immediate use for your current projects.

3. Gather similar items and assign them a container.

For a quick declutter, think less "each thing has a home" and more "each type of thing has a home". For example, all of your in-progress files can go in one stack, even if the projects are totally unrelated, and you can chuck smaller containers of paper clips or other office supplies in a nice basket or colorful box. One easy way to get more desk space and avoid items getting buried is to put necessary papers in labeled folders and then put the folders in durable magazine bins. Keep the like-with-like rule going even as new items come to you, and commit to having nothing left loose.

4. Tame your cables.

Wireless is brilliant. But for equipment you're still tethered to, cable ties, rubber bands and even squeeze-style paper binding clips can help keep your cables from spidering into an unsightly, obtrusive mess. Pull them together and guide them out of the way.

5. Wipe it down.

With everything now out of the way and in place, grab a disinfectant wipe and go to town on your keyboard and desk surface.

Now, this is an extremely basic decluttering sequence. But if you have a little more time and want to be more thorough, add in these options, too:

Give everything the box dump test.

Dump everything from your drawers into a box (or a few smaller boxes, if you prefer). Grab items out of the box as needed and, as each item gets used again, assign it a permanent spot on your desk or back in the drawers. At the end of the week, you'll have all of your essentials back, and whatever is left in the boxes probably could go away. If there are items you use only occasionally but still legitimately need, put them in a container elsewhere in your office so they're not in the way.

Ditch the duplicates.

You absolutely should have pictures of your friends and family in your work area, but how about picking two or three favorites instead of a dozen? You also probably don't need 20 pencils, two copies of meeting notes or hard copies of what's already digitally prepped.


Most offices are going to great lengths to reduce their paper waste, but if there are documents provided to you, get in the habit of scanning whatever doesn't necessitate an original copy on receipt and organizing them in digital files, preferably on the cloud. Just make sure you're paying attention to the confidentiality level of the documents and apply appropriate securities.

Label everything.

Even if you know where all your stuff belongs, others can use the labels when you're not around to put items away or in the proper place for review.

But probably the biggest decluttering tip you can remember is this: Always ask yourself, "What purpose does this serve for me?" If it's not helping you somehow, don't let it claim any precious workspace real estate.