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by Cathy Vandewater | February 15, 2011


It's a small work-world after all.

Just as The Lookout reported a new low of average personal workspace (75 square feet, down from 90 in 1994), a recent Vault poll revealed that 34% of site visitors work from dinky cubicles—more than any other category of workspace.

Granted, we're making much better use of our technology compared to 1994-- cell phones are no longer the size of a shoe, and computer monitors don't take up desk prime real estate anymore.

Work Space PollBut the lack of floor space is still disconcerting; it leaves much leeway for clutter. That, combined with the motivation-killing aspects of the cube (lack of privacy, beige) can be deadly to your productivity.

But who wants to organize decorate a three-wall cell? We'd all much rather plan the décor for our corner offices.

The trouble is that, however little thought you give to your cube, its state can certainly bother you. Yesterday's flurry of post its and an old mug of coffee crowding your keyboard are not a great environment to start your day in.

Luckily, a small workspace also means a fairly speedy clean up—if you know where to start.

Here are our five steps for optimum cubicle satisfaction:

1. Expel the expendable

You might not realize how much useless stuff is stealing precious desk space. Clear everything off, wipe your desk down, and replace only those things you use every day or a few times a week. Examine the rest—what do you have? Knick knacks? Lotions and hand sanitizers? Piles of paper?

Sort the leftovers into three piles: Toss, File, Return. Immediately throw out (or recycle) your toss pile, and return any borrowed items to coworkers—or to the supply closet, if you've got more than a month's worth of post its or paper clips lying around. Set aside papers to be filed, and tear down your post-its—instead, record notes in a single notebook on your desk, or type them into "sticky notes" on your computer's desk top.

2. Create a control center

Your "control center" will be a designated area for all those things you reach for on a daily basis: pens, stapler, notepads, paper clips, business cards, scissors—whatever. You'll need some sort of apparatus for this, but it doesn't need to be complicated—a coffee mug for pens and a small tray for paper supplies will do, in lieu of a stationery holder. Put it out of your way, but within an arm's reach of the hand you write with.

Near your phone, place a notepad and pen, but nothing else. Banish personal care items—tissues, hand sanitizer, lotion, hair ties, gum, wallet/purse, money, etc. to your top desk drawer. A little organizing is good here too: a silverware separator can sort small items, but even an empty shoe box can keep loose change or miscellany under control.

4. Build a reference system

Unless you have a separate file cabinet, hanging drawers can create an out-of-the-way catch all for papers you'll need later. Grab a few—along with a label maker—and set up a quick system. Feel free to add a "pending" folder at the front for daily items you simply don't want on your desk. Just don't forget to check it!

Books on your desk, if you have them, should be limited to daily reference items or those being used for a current project. The rest should tuck into a desk drawer, or onto their own shelf. As with all desk organization, think vertically wherever possible.

3. Decorate sparingly—but with purpose

Get Zen for a moment and consider your greater purpose at work. A decorated workspace may seem silly, but if your surroundings for the day could either give you a little boost or bum you out, which would you choose?

For a bump of confidence or focus, try hanging a certificate of achievement and a small photo of supportive friends and family. Those smiling faces remind you that your work has been recognized before, and will soon be again.

Need mood or energy lifts? Try a silly wall calendar or a few pictures that crack you up, and a brightly colored organization items.

Hoping to give off an upper management vibe? Look like the master of your domain with a spotless desk, high-quality accessories, and tasteful wall art. You can still do something funny, but think funny in a New Yorker cartoon sort of way (and consider framing it).

5. Set yourself up for good habits

Your overall goal is efficiency, so anything that tempts you to goof off should be banished to a desk drawer, or even left at home. Candy, an iPod, a favorite hot wheels car: you can keep them all at your desk if they fit in your junk drawer, but reserve them strictly for break time. Same goes for other distracting items, like a personal cell.

Conversely, anything that encourages you to stay on task, like a to-do list board or calendar, should be kept within easy reach. And keep an eye out for fun desk-top accessories on your next Staples run. A dry erase or black board to keep remind yourself of that 2:15pm call? Sure! And if a Dilbert desk sorter will get you to put pens away, don't think—just buy it.

Read More:
Does Size Matter? Cubicle Dwellers More Cramped Than Ever


--Cathy Vandewater,



Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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