Do you ever wish you could peek inside the offices of productivity and organization experts to see how they set up their own workspace for maximum efficiency?
We did, so we approached six big names in the productivity arena and asked: What do you keep on your desk? Here’s what they said:
Organizing guru Peter Walsh, author of It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff, says he imagines his desk like a car. Everything you need most immediately—the steering wheel, radio, ignition, indicators, door handle—is at arm’s length. Things that are needed but not used regularly are two-arms’ lengths away, such as in the glove compartment, and the things used infrequently are in the trunk.
"Your desk should be exactly the same," he says. "When you’re sitting at your desk, the only things you should be able to touch are the things you use all the time."
Walsh’s desk holds his computer and keyboard, a charging station for his phone, and vertical files that hold active projects. "That’s all I have on my desktop," he says. "Your desk is a workstation, not a storage facility."
Productivity king David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, needs just a small desk in his Amsterdam office to get stuff done. He says a desk should hold four things: supplies, reference materials, decorations, and equipment. Anything else should go somewhere else.
A tour of his desk includes a box of facial tissue; a container that holds a letter opener, Exacto knife, fountain pen, three felt pens, a ballpoint pen and scissors; and a standing file rack he personally designed that holds about 20 labeled file folders with current projects and client work. He also has a MacBook Pro on a vertical stand that connects to a large screen, a blue-tooth keyboard, and a mouse pad.
Allen also keeps two paper notepads in different sizes, and a pen at the ready. "Both are for capturing God knows what," he says.
The in-basket is one of the most important tools on Allen’s desk, and it keeps his workspace clean. "It’s the funnel for miscellaneous things you haven’t decided about yet, such as mail or meeting notes," he says. "Throw them in there. It’s the one place that gives you freedom and discipline to capture unprocessed stuff so it’s not thrown all over the desk."
Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing From the Inside Out, keeps her desk neat by being selective about what’s on it. Hers includes a computer monitor, keyboard, telephone, and a small clock with an important function: "It’s easy for me to get absorbed in what I’m doing, and it keeps me conscious of the time," she says. "It’s an old-fashioned clock with a second hand and very clear numbers. I don’t like looking at my iPhone for the time; it’s a device that sucks your energy."
The most important tool on her desk, however, is her Balanced Life Planner, a product she designed herself, she says.
"It’s always out, and if an idea comes to me about something else I want to do, I immediately put it in my planner," she says. "Then I can stay focused on what I’m doing. It helps me capture to-dos and guides me through my day, telling me what I’m doing when."
Morgenstern also keeps a glass of water on a felt coaster and a quote-of-the-day affirmation calendar by Louise Hay. "It’s not an essential," she says. "It’s something new I’m trying."
Nicknamed "the queen of putting people’s lives in order" by USA Today, Morgenstern says she prefers her desk to be a clear surface except for what she’s working on at that moment. "I might have a client file or media interview folder, but if I’m not working on it, I don’t keep it out," she says. "Once you start leaving things out, it becomes visual Muzak and distracting. I store everything else within a spin of my chair."
Peter Bregman, author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want, has two workspaces: a standing desk and his lap.
"My standing desk has a computer, a phone—yes, a landline!—and a swinging microphone for podcasting. That’s it," he says. "I use my desk for administrative work, conference calls, and podcasting. I have a file drawer right next to my desk, and a small cabinet with things like scissors, pens, a stapler, envelopes, and tape."
For certain types of work, Bregman skips the desk altogether: "I cannot do thoughtful writing work at a desk," he says. "I do all my thoughtful writing on my lap, sitting in my Eames chair with my feet up on my ottoman."
Productivity writer Jocelyn Glei, editor of Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, calls herself an inveterate "knoller."
"I hate clutter, I'm hyperorganized, and I keep nothing unnecessary on my desk. I don't even have drawers lest I want to put useless things inside of them," she says.
The most important thing about her desk is that it's huge—6.5-by-3-feet—"so there's lots of room to play," Glei says. Three things have a permanent home on the desk: her MacBook Air, a 12-by-9-inch Strathmore sketchbook for exploring ideas, and an FAF pad for jotting down things that need to get done.
"Then, there's tons of room left to spread out on my current project," she says. "I'm wrapping up a new book, so there are about five drafts of the book in different stacks all over my desk."
As CEO and founder of The Container Store, Kip Tindell has access to myriad organizing tools to keep his desk tidy, but he’s very selective about what he uses. "I like to keep my work surface as open and clutter-free as possible since I prefer to be out, interacting with others instead of cooped up in my office," he says.
Tindell uses stackable desktop organizers from his company’s Like-It Collection to hold office essentials. His desktop also holds a selection of books written by colleagues and friends. (Currently he’s reading Firms of Endearment by Rajendra Sisodia and It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For by Roy Spence, Jr.) And decorating the surface is a collection of seven colored blocks that represent his company’s seven Foundation Principles, which guide everyone on how to treat employees, customers, vendors, shareholders, and the community with respect and dignity.
Since his desk is streamlined, Tindell says it typically doesn’t get too unruly: "As you can imagine, we like to keep things well organized at The Container Store," he says.