Putting the Fun Back in Functional: Maximizing and Customizing Your Desk Space

Whether you’re moving into a brand-new work space or looking for a few ways to revamp the space you’re already in, this blog post will provide a few tips and tricks that have proved useful to me when organizing and customizing my desk space.


My Work Space


My first time working in an office setting was as an intern in publishing, and like many interns my workspace was small. Most of my desk was dominated by the computer monitor on my left and the metal, three-tier file organizer on my right. The desk extended past the organizer but that area was occupied by my cubical mate—a noisy printer named Max who serviced half the office personnel. I had just enough space for my purse, calendar, and notepad.

When you’re new to a space it can be difficult to get comfortable. This is true not just for interns but entry-levelers and even higher-ups—anyone who’s moved into a new work environment. My first few weeks as an intern I had a certain mindset: “I’m only here three days a week for three months, there’s no need for me to settle in.” but that was the wrong way of thinking. Being productive requires some level of comfort. If you want to make the most of any opportunity where you’re asked to function in an office, you have to feel confident and comfortable in your workspace. I feel this way in my workspace when it is organized and has a few personal touches. In my experience, an organized and personalized workspace is the foundation of productivity.

Making Space:

There’s a select number of people in this world who hear the words “cleaning” or “organizing” and become giddy with excitement. I am not one of those people. But creating and maintaining an organized workspace is essential for me to fulfill my tasks. Organizing may sound daunting, but being organized is simply knowing what you have and where to find it. Plus, it’s harder to personalize your workspace when everything is everywhere. Your co-workers won’t be able to appreciate your awesome Game of Thrones wall calendar if your wall is covered in post-its and papers. If your work space is already organized or you fundamentally loathe cleaning, feel free to skip to the next section. Everyone else, grab a large plastic bag and let’s get to work!

Often times when we enter a new workspace we’re inheriting the space from its previous occupant. That means we’re also inheriting whatever that person left behind. Look through the drawers of your desk and become familiar with the files and materials you are now responsible for. If those files pertain to your tasks, hold on to them. If they don’t you may be able to relocate or recycle them. Before doing either, ask someone who is familiar with your tasks about the files you’ve found. You don’t want to accidentally throw out something important.

***Optional: Take organizing one step further! I found that a great way to become more familiar with the contents of my drawers was by making new tabs for file folders. Some of the records I inherited were from the 1990s and 1980s. Replacing the worn-out file folders and faded labels gave the drawer a fresh look and makes it easier for me to find old records.

When I moved into my current desk space one of the drawers contained a fully-stocked supplies organizer. It was great, but then I realized I don’t really need to have 200 pushpins and 5 boxes of staples on hand at all times. If your office supply room isn’t a far walk from your desk, consider keeping less supplies in your desk to make room for more important things. The first step to maximizing desk space is getting stuff off your desk. Use your newfound drawer space to store files, supplies, and anything cluttering your desk that’s better suited in a drawer.

Creating Space

Now that inside your desk is straight, let’s take a step back and look at your overall workspace. That includes any walls, partitions, chairs, shelves, and the space underneath your desk. All of these elements are opportunities for organization and personalization!


Walls are great for organizing and personalizing a workspace. If your office is cool with hammering into walls consider hanging a framed picture or install a bulletin board and some floating file shelves for extra storage. If mild demolition puts a frown on your Supervisor’s face or if you’re not handy with a hammer, no sweat! Invest in a corkboard or whiteboard with adhesive backs and a roll of painter’s tape. As a publishing professional I get countless postcard art samples so I’ve designated a small place on my wall to feature my favorites. I use blue painter’s tape to stick the cards to the wall and move them around without worrying about damaging the paint.

Keep in mind that when you hang things on walls (and partitions) it can make your space look cluttered and smaller. I found that using part of my wall instead of the whole wall for art cards allowed me to decorate the space without cluttering it. Also, the way you hang things like art cards and post-its can make all the difference. I create rows and columns and take orientation (portrait or landscape) into consideration when organizing my wall. I promise, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. To demonstrate, my office mate graciously let me use her art wall as an example. In just three minutes we gave her wall a clean look by creating columns:


What is the partition that divides your desk from your neighbor’s desk made of? My partition is made of a friendly mesh material that’s ideal for my pin collection! It’s also very sturdy which is great for hanging file organizers.


Your virtual desk! Just like your desk, your computer desktop is an integral part of your workspace. I like to limit my desktop to 10 documents that I keep in two columns, and a few Stickies notes (more on those soon). Mac Finder has a neat feature that alphabetizes the files on your desktop into clean rows for quick organization! If your desktop is overrun beyond control, either spend some time organizing your files or consider taking all of those unruly documents and putting them in a single folder.

Post-its on Computers: How many is too many?

I love Post-its. When I was an intern, I’d stick them to the bottom of my computer, giving the monitor a little goatee. As my responsibilities increased so did the number of Post-its framing my computer screen. Soon my computer monitor had a beard. Once it started growing sideburns, I realized I had too many Post-its.

I use Post-its to catch my eye. So for me, more than 3-5 Post-its in my workspace is too many. If I have more than that stuck to my computer or throughout my work area I start to ignore them and they lose their purpose. Thanks to software like “Stickies” I can have the Post-it experience without cluttering my workspace!

Go Big by Going Small:

If you want to make more space on your desk, consider replacing your standard-size tape dispenser and stapler with smaller versions. How often do you staple or tape things? I use my stapler about once a week and my tape even less, so I traded in my bulky dispenser and stapler for mini versions. These mini versions help keep my desk space from looking cluttered.

Part Three: Personal Space

With your workspace organized, now’s the time to add some personality! Any part of your workspace that you’re allowed to change is an opportunity for a personal touch. I suggest starting with a few (3-4) points then grow from there.

Pen Holder:

Get rid of that tragic, standard, black pen holder immediately! You can use literally any cup-like object to hold your writing-implements—heck, a red SOLO cup has more personality than that black thing. If you’re looking to maximize your desk space, opt for a clear container. I keep my pens in a wine glass that I bought at T.J. Maxx for $2.99. I have several colorful pens and having them in a clear container makes it easier to see them and adds color to my space. Channel your inner DIY artist and get crafty with a mason jar. Or keep it simple and use a fun mug from your favorite musical, TV show, or vacation spot.

Tissue Box:

A desk essential! You can add color to your space with a box that has a vibrant pattern or maximize your space by choosing a box with muted colors. Since my desk and wall are a very light gray, I use a light blue/gray Kleenex tissue box. If your tissue box could use a mini makeover, dress it up with a Post-it. My tissue box has Post-it with one of my favorite quotes on it.

Lastly, make your space serve you by carving out an enclosed area for personal items. Everyone has personal items they like to keep on hand. I have a makeup bag in my desk that contains an extra pair of socks, a lint brush, a compact mirror, and a travel-size bottle of mouthwash (just in case I eat something with garlic at lunch). Under your desk is also a great place to store some personal things—I keep a small umbrella and change of shoes under mine. Ultimately, when you’re spending about 40 hours a week in a space, it should be comfortable. Your work space should feel like a home base. 

I hope you find some of my suggestions helpful. Live long and prosper on your journey to workspace greatness!

If you have any questions or tips to share, feel free to leave a comment!