The Time Queen
Time management expert Robyn Pearce looks at how to get the most out of life.

Robyn Pearce: How can I organise my desk?

'Don't look at my desk!' Photo / Thinkstock
'Don't look at my desk!' Photo / Thinkstock

Have you ever walked into an office and heard the owner say with an embarrassed laugh, 'Don't look at my desk!' Have you seen the stress in their faces? Felt their sense of overload?

A messy office is very inefficient - time is wasted and stress rises. The good news is - it's easy to fix and maintain when you know how. And - the big benefit is that you'll save hours of time per week once you've got it sorted.

There are several simple steps to a well-functioning office but for today let's just look at your desk and accessories.

There are many types of desks and no one 'right' style. The most important thing is that it works for you. If your desk doesn't have enough drawers (after you've cleaned out any lurking junk), look for mobile drawer and filing units to fit under or beside the desk. I recommend having a suspension file drawer as the bottom drawer if possible.

Timesaving tip:

Treat your closest space as your interruption zone.

Keep it clear of things you're NOT working on at the moment

If you find yourself constantly jumping up to use a piece of equipment, fetch stationery or look for files, find a way to reposition those items so that you can reach them whilst sitting down. Consider a return or side-extension to your desk, shelves behind or a second tier or extra shelf just above your desk so that future tasks can be close at hand but slightly out of eye range whilst you work.

Many forms of storage can expand the immediate space around your desk - some of them on wheels. Check out good office stationery and furniture shops.

Make sure any desktop accessories you use (e.g. stapler, ruler, paper clips) are not crowding your working space. Get as many of them as possible into the top drawer of your mobile or desk.

If you're a creative person, what makes you feel productive?

Another thing to consider, when setting up your environment, is your learning style. Right-brain creative people operate much better if they have visual stimulation. To them an immaculate and totally clean desk feels very sterile.

If you're right-brained, try these ideas:

Colourful upright containers to hold current projects.

Photos of your loved ones (the people you're trying to get home to see, if you could only get away from this damned desk!)

A beautiful pot-plant - improves the oxygen in your office, reduces the emissions from the computers, and gives you a sense of wellbeing. Peace lilies cope with air conditioning pretty well.

What about colourful desk accessories?

Use coloured manila folders, coloured scribble pads, post-it notes and different coloured pens. You might even colour-coordinate all your equipment. And if you find your gear goes walking, what about getting each member of your team to choose a different colour for their equipment. No arguments that way!

I can't put stuff away - I'll loose it!

If you process information visually, putting things out of sight is terrifying! Problem is, 'stuff' lying around distracts. Piles of paper and over-flowing in-trays are depressing, cloud your thinking, and slow down your decision-making!

Most of us are increasingly digital, but there is still some paper for many people. I store it in three stages, based on a scale of diminishing need.

Stage 1: Items I want right at finger-tip:

On the top of my desk, to one side, I have a Quefile (step file), an awesome space saver that works really well for both left- and right-brain processors. See an example here.

The things you're currently working on are placed in a named coloured manila folder - easy to file the first time, fast to find, and easy to replace.

The folders or categories I use with my Quefile are:

Current Action - I make this the front folder
Waiting Replies - something I've started and am now waiting on someone else
Very active current projects that I want at my finger-tips - each one in a separate folder
My team & regular contractors - a separate folder for each person.

Stage 2: Items I want handy, but not cluttering my thinking
For this I use the suspension file in the mobile beside my knee. Name each drop file and place them alphabetically. One file is called 'Half-way to File 13'. In there are the items I don't think I want again - just in case. Every now and then I have a clean-out.
Great peace of mind but no clutter!

Stage 3: Archival or semi-archival storage
This is where your regular filing cabinet comes in. Depending on your business there are many types (and that's outside the scope of today's article.)

Reader giveaway: We have 2 double passes (worth $190.00 each) to give away to Robyn's next 2 hour Breakfast Club event in Auckland, August 9th. She'll be sharing the session with Lisa McKay from HR Toolkit.
To be in to win, email your entry now to with Breakfast (NZ Herald Online) in the subject line. Entries close by 5pm Friday 2nd August. For those who miss out, tickets and more details (including coming events in Wellington and Christchurch) visit the website here.

Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity business, based in New Zealand. Get your free report 'How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds' and ongoing time tips at

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