Ask LH: How Can I Maximise My Desk Space?

Dear Lifehacker, My workspace isn't the most spacious or open. In fact, it's downright small and clutter-prone. Do you have any tips for making the most of what little desk space I have -- on the cheap, of course? Signed, Space Saver

Photo by Amy B

Dear Space Saver,

We know how you feel. No matter how much desk space you have, it never feels like it's enough. We have seen, however, lots of well-organised workspaces that make great use of even the tiniest of spaces. Here are some real-life examples and tips for maximising the space you have.

Think of Your Desk as a Cockpit

Getting Things Done guru David Allen says in his Organizing Your Workspace (PDF) guidelines to think of your workspace like a cockpit:

The workspace should function like a cockpit -- all the controls easily accessible as required, allowing for maximum focus on the work at hand, quick over-viewing of work to be done, and easy ad hoc processing of all forms of input (from email, paper mail, phone, and live conversation).

Group your things nearest to you into two groups: 1) permanent stuff that you use regularly such as supplies, your computer and reference materials and 2) transit/incomplete stuff, like your inbox.

Here's how Allen organises his desk:

The key is to keep only those things you use daily in arm's reach. Things you use weekly can be kept off the desktop but within reach (like in a desk drawer), and everything else should be stored somewhere within walking distance.

The most important thing: purge anything unnecessary from your workspace.

Hide What You Can

If you have a small desk, we can take an even more minimalist approach -- hiding things in plain sight to reduce visual clutter:

  • Move your inbox: Instead of the traditional tray or file folders on your desk for your inbox or action items, if you have a small desk you could instead use a folder in your filing cabinet. Or you can mount those folders to the side of your desk to clear clutter.
  • Hide things behind your monitor or under your desk: The back of your monitor is a wonderful spot for hidden storage. You can attach pens, index cards, external hard drives and more. A keyboard tray mounted under your desk or a pegboard for cables and peripherals can also clean up your workspace.
  • Used closed storage: Hide peripherals and supplies in closed cabinets to keep everything out of your way.
  • Tame your cables: Cable clutter looks bad, even when you have a giant workspace, and it looks even worse in a tiny one. Over the years we've noted lots of cable management solutions, from the insanely useful binder clip to socks to rain gutters and to eyehooks, so you can take your pick and keep those cables from crowding your workspace.

Think Vertically

Make the best use of wall space behind and beside your desk. Can you attach shelves for storage or cork/magnetic boards? Can you mount your monitor(s) to the wall or raise them on a shelf?

The walls are your friends:

Make Design Decisions That Will Make Your Space Appear Larger

Sometimes a decorating upgrade is all you need to make a small space look larger. A limited colour scheme can pull everything together.

Good use of lighting or moving to a room with lots of windows can also make your space feel less cramped:

For more trickery, change your wallpaper to your room's background for a room-opening trompe-l'oeil:

How Can I Make The Most of My Meager Desk Space?

Obviously, these design moves won't help little desks with lots of clutter on them, but they might make you feel less claustrophobic while sitting at one.

Look at Similar Spaces for More Inspirations

Our Featured Workspaces, including the most popular ones in 2011 and 2010, often showcase cleverly organised small spaces, so you can use them for inspiration to turn your small desk into the perfect productivity area for you.

Cheers, Lifehacker

P.S. Also try to keep cats off your desk.

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    Wow that wallpaper idea looks fantastic!

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