How I Organise a Desk Without Drawers

Photo of a messy desk piled high with files, notebooks, random paperwork, a coffee mug and a glass, pens, calculator, and a mobile handset. Everything is strewn around in front of the computer monitor and keyboard and looks very cluttered and shows how difficult it can be to organise a desk without drawers.
Looking for ways to organise a desk without drawers, or simply keep your work area tidy and uncluttered all throughout the week? Here are some easy tips for organising your desk that will help you boost your focus and productivity.

Last Updated on 07/11/2022

Know the feeling? You spend way too much time every morning clearing off your desk and workspace. Things just seem to keep stacking up because it’s darn hard to organise a desk without drawers. Before you start any actual work in the morning, you find yourself having to clean everything off your desk from yesterday just so you can settle into your workday.

Annoying, right?

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It doesn’t matter what workspace you have—from your own office at work or an entire room dedicated to home office, to a small corner or a desk in your bedroom for working from home. Keeping your space tidied up is key to productivity. It helps you focus, it keeps your mind clear, and it magically makes whatever you’re working on a whole lot easier.

Over the years, I developed some really simple habits to keep clutter at bay, and keep my desk clean without having to spend much time at all getting settled in the morning. And in my home office, I don’t even have a proper desk with a drawer unit! Here are some of the things that have helped me stay tidy at work and organise a desk without drawers.

Keep Your Setup to a Minimum

Multiple screens, maybe even multiple phones. Paper pad notes, flyers, empty coffee cups. The daily post, receipts, and lots other stuff land at your workspace all throughout the week. In the blink of an eye, things just tend to start piling up on desks like magic.

If you had a clean desk, it would be much easier to focus on what’s important because there would be fewer distractions. The good news is that you probably don’t need to go out and buy any fancy containers and organisers to tidy up your workspace. Get back to the basics is the name of the game.

Keep your setup to a minimum and don’t have too much stuff on your desk. Computer display, stand for your laptop, pen, notepad, keyboard, phone, maybe a headset. Your basic setup probably doesn’t really need much else beyond the tools and materials you rely on every day.

Don’t allow stuff to pile up on your desk.

Some folks think they’re going to be more productive and remember everything by covering their space in post-its and scribbling notes everywhere. Yet maybe all that really does is make it harder for you to find what you need, when you need it.

So, how do you keep your desk tidy? Well, there are a few simple tips that can help get your workspace organised. Number one is: keep the clutter at bay. Scale back to the basic essentials. What do you really have to have at your desk to do your work?

You don’t necessarily need a pencil cup with 37 different markers if you only ever reach for a pen in your day-to-day. And you definitely don’t need to purchase clear acrylic desk organisers or DIY any cardboard cubbies to organise your sticker collection. Keeping your space clean means keeping only what you need within easy reach.

If you don’t use something on a regular basis and don’t have room for it elsewhere, consider recycling it or donating it to someone who does need it regularly and will appreciate having it handy.

Develop an Organising System to Stay Tidy

Take a few minutes at the end of each day to tidy your desk. Getting into this habit will not only give you a fresh start each morning, but it will also serve as a gunshot to truly end your workday so you can relax and wind down.

I have a filing system that I use every single day. When I get a piece of paper or a note of any kind, I decide immediately what to do with it (think GTD). If it’s something I can do in a few minutes or less and then throw out, I do it right away. Should I need to keep a paper copy on file, it goes straight into the respective file or binder. If it can be digitised (and most things can), I scan it into my Evernote and toss the paper.

Once things are filed or done, it means they won’t be accumulating and taking up space on my desk. That’s half the battle in keeping your desk clean.

Find a system for organising that works for you. Don’t just stuff things into file folders haphazardly. Create an organisational system that lets you find things quickly and easily when you need them.

If you'd like even more tips that will help you stay productive and organise a desk without drawers, check out my articles about going paperless and digital decluttering. Both posts take a look at filing systems you can adopt in your own workspace.

Keep Essentials Within Easy Reach

If you’re working on a specific project, or if you know you have a Zoom marathon in the afternoon, keep your basics within reach and ditch the rest for maximum concentration.

Have your data charts handy if you need to cite metrics on a call. If you have a preference for handwritten notes, keep your pad and paper at hand. If you never work with notepads, ditch the paper and pens from your desk entirely.

Also, invest in a nice looking little waste bin to place within arm’s reach of your desk. This makes it super easy to ditch paper clutter in real-time, without having to get up and take it to your main waste bin in the kitchen or elsewhere. There are a number of small wastebaskets that blend in nicely with your decor and workstation. Here are some that can work well in a home office area:

Raffia wastebasket with plastic lining
Raffia wastebasket with plastic lining
9.7/10
mDesign mini waste bin
mDesign mini waste bin
9.5/10
mDesign slimline waste bin
mDesign slimline waste bin
9.1/10

Use a Trolley and Shelves to Organise a Desk Without Drawers

When you need to organise a desk without drawers, consider adding a trolley to your setup. A trolley can stow small utensils like post-its and pens, and even your hardware. Plus, if you work from home, you can wheel it out of sight at the end of your workday.

In my own home office space, I use a Boby trolley to stash my office supplies and work gear. It sits in a corner near my workstation and looks pretty inconspicuous. I love all of its different compartments which I use to house the office supplies I don’t reach for everyday: envelopes, mailing stickers, stamps, pencils, extra ink cartridges for the printer, and the like.

The Boby is on the pricier side (it’s in the MoMa after all) and it might not suit your taste, but you can find other great office trolley alternatives at Ikea or on Amazon such as these:

2-Tier Utility Cart Organizer with Cover
2-Tier Utility Cart Organizer with Cover
9.7/10
3-Tier Cart with Cover and Drawer
3-Tier Cart with Cover and Drawer
9.5/10
3-Tier Organizer with Pegboard, Baskets, Hooks
3-Tier Organizer with Pegboard, Baskets, Hooks
9.1/10

Be sure to clean out your trolley sporadically, as it can also become a dumping ground and graveyard for stuff you no longer need at work!

Shelving

Because I work in the field of localisation and language services, I have a variety of reference books I like to have within easy reach. I keep them all on a shelving unit from Vitsoe at arm’s length from my workstation.

Shelves are great for storing binders, books, catalogues and other printed matter. You might also like to consider utilising a shelving unit around your workstation to hold these items. Plus, if you don’t have or want a trolley, you can add a couple of discrete storage containers to your shelves for things you don’t regularly use, such as batteries, adapters, or paper clips.

Tidy Up at the End of Every Work Day

Clean off your desk every night. This will give you a fresh start for the next day. Not only that, but if you work from home, you’ll be able to unwind better after work if your work stuff is out of sight at the end of the day.

If you leave everything out on the dining room table or in the nook of your bedroom, it will constantly be in view. Ergo: you’ll start thinking about work every time you see it.

Your employer may love the thought of occupying your mind and soul 24/7. Your productivity, however, will actually improve if you close up shop properly at the end of each day and separate work from your personal life.

Toss all your paper scraps at the end of your day after organising them digitally. Take the coffee cups and water mugs to the kitchen. Close the laptop and put it out of sight if you work from home. Turn off your work mobile until the next morning. Go play a game with your kid. Make a date with your spouse, or run some errands. Go to a class, or meet up with a friend. You’ll start the next workday with fresh impulses and new energy, truly.

Kill the Cable Spaghetti

Cables can be a real pain, both aesthetically and functionally. A tangle of cables can be unsightly and can make it difficult to find the one you need. Even worse, a nest of cables can denote a fire hazard.

There are a few things you can do to combat the infamous cable spaghetti at your desk. First, try to use as few cables as possible. If you can use wireless peripherals, that’s ideal. If you must use a lot of cables, try opt for ones that are the same length. That way, you can avoid having a bunch of different lengths hanging down the back of your desk.

If you have a bunch of different cables, tie them together with zip ties or velcro straps. This can help avoid having to catty-corner your desk. Next, try to organise your cables by type. That way, you can group similar cables together and find it easier to reach the one you want. You might just want to opt for a cable management system like one of these:

Velcro Cable Sleeves
Velcro Cable Sleeves
9.7/10
Desk Mounted Cable Organizer
Desk Mounted Cable Organizer
9.5/10
Easy Install Cable Runway
Easy Install Cable Runway
9.1/10

Finally, if you have a motley crew of cables you need every day, you can label each cable with its purpose. This helps you identify which is which when you have to unplug and re-situate.

Don’t Use Different Storage Solutions to Organise a Desk Without Drawers

Stick with one type of storage for a uniform look. If you do use small storage containers at your workspace, keep to one range or style. Avoid mixing and matching at your desk so things look sleek and easy on the eye.

Personally, I don’t have a lot of container storage space to organise my desk without drawers. One simple Muji keep-all stores my fobs and post-its, plus I have rubber stamp stand for daily postal correspondence. (Yep, still a thing in some locales.) That’s about it. Everything else is organised into my roll-away trolley in the corner.

Purge, Sort and Declutter Every Friday

Reserve 15–20 minutes at the end of every workweek to purge, sort and declutter any odds and ends left over on your desk.

One of the best ways to stay organised and productive at work really is to declutter your desk every Friday before you leave. This way, you’ll have a clean, fresh start on Monday morning without any mess. Starting your new week off with a cluttered desk can make it super difficult to find what you need and get settled into a new bucket of to-dos for the week. By decluttering your desk every Friday, you’ll start your week off on the right foot and boost your focus.

Put any loose ends back in their place. Shred any documents you’ve already scanned or no longer need. You might take the opportunity to wipe down your computer screen, mouse, and keyboard so you literally have a clean start into next week.

You spend so much time at your desk every week, so why not make it as pleasant as possible? Create a space you feel good in. A workstation where you’re relatively content and happy, and can find your stuff.

When I look at my desk and feel a sense of calm, I feel like work is just the start of something bigger, better. That’s definitely a good feeling to have.

At the End of the Day…

Everyone has a different workspace and style of working, but what works for me is to just keep it simple. Find an organisation scheme that works for you to keep your desk organised the way you like it. Deep down inside, you know how to get in your zone, so just do what works for you and your personal productivity level. It’s super satisfying starting your work on time, getting right into a flow, and maybe even finishing early!

It’s tempting to let my desk get messy once in a while, but I always remind myself of how much more productive I am when everything is easier to find and when I’m not chasing dust bunnies behind the computer or staring at streaks on a dirty screen.

So there you have it. I hope you can take some of these tips to organise a desk without drawers, create a tidier workspace, and improve your daily workflow. What are your best desk organising tips? Share them in the comments below!

Photo of a Dieter Rams 606 shelving unit from Vitsoe used as a home office space to organise a desk without drawers. There is a Herman Miller Cosm chair in front of an Apple display, with a Macbook Air to the right and a Fujitsu Scansnap. Bookshelves surround the workspace, holding reference works within easy reach. The desk is organized and tidy, with no clutter out.
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