Even the most avid cafe scholar needs to work at home or out of an office sometimes. The way you set up your desk can have a big impact on how much you accomplish and the quality of your work. You don’t always have a lot of space to work with, so how can you organize your desk to maximize productivity?

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

How to Set up Your Desk to Maximize Productivity and Study Smarter. | https://thecafescholar.com

Why Does it Matter How You Set up Your Desk?

I don’t know about you, but I’m all about studying smarter: making better use of both my time and my other resources so that I can do my very best in school and in the rest of life.  Time is at a premium, and having my space set up with a good system that works for me will help me to waste less time and be more productive.  It’s that simple.  The good news is, it doesn’t have to cost you much in the way of time or money (unless you want it to!). Organizing your desk can actually be a lot of fun.  For me.  And my label maker.  And a tall glass of iced tea.  And TobyMac cranked up on the iPod.  Here are some basic principles to set up your desk in a way that works for you and your budget.  You may have to tweak things along the way as you test it out and see what works.

Principle #1: Your Desktop is for Work, not Storage

Rule # 1: Your desktop is for work, not for storage. | https://thecafescholar.com

This is why cafes are such a great place to get things done: they are not covered in stuff, except what you are actually using to do your work!  When you set up your desk, you want to have as much of your desktop clear as possible so that you can use this space for what you are actively working on.  The only things that really should be out on the surface are the things that you use every day.  For me, those include a small pencil box with a sharpie, a whiteboard marker, a few black or blue pens, and a pencil or two, and my computer monitor and laptop stand.  I also have an inbox and outbox, off to the side and away from my main workspace.
You also want your space to be well lit.  Try to position it in a place with good natural lighting from a window, or with a light above.  Check for glare on your computer, too.  You may want to add a lamp for detailed work that requires more lighting, especially depending on what kind of work you are doing.

Working in bed will mess up both your work and your sleep. | https://thecafescholar.com

Some people work best with a clean, clutter-and-distraction free desktop; others are inspired to creativity by a little visual clutter.  If you fall into the second category, you still need a clean space to work with.  One great way to let your creative side show but still have a good workspace is to use pictures, notes, letters, or whatever else catches your fancy to decorate your desk, then cover it with a glass table topper.  You now have a desk that is both cluttered and clean!
I should add here that if your desk is for work, your bed is NOT for work.  Working in bed will mess up both your work and your sleep.  If you need a change of position or scenery, go to the kitchen, the library, or your friendly neighborhood Starbucks…but not your bed.

 Working in bed will mess up both your work and your sleep. Click To Tweet

Principle #2: Have the Right Stuff in the Right Places

Keep only the items you use daily on your desk. Items that you use often should be in desk drawers; items that you use rarely should be stored elsewhere. | https://thecafescholar.com

As I mentioned above, when you organize your desk, you want to have only the items you need daily out on your desk. Other items should be stored according to how often you use them.  If you use it fairly often, put it in the desk drawers.  Easy to access, but not in the way.  Items used more often will go in the top drawers if they fit.  Use containers or dividers in your drawers and have a home for everything that you truly need to keep there.  Abby Lawson puts a label in the bottom of the organizers in her drawers, so she can put an item back where it belongs after using it.  If your desk doesn’t have drawers, get some of these plastic rolling drawers to slide under, or even a mini dresser.
Items that you use less often are going to go further away from your workspace.  Where you put them will depend on the space you have.  These might include extra supplies such as pens or paper to replenish what you use daily, as well as lesser used craft supplies, etc.  I keep these in labeled bins on a shelf near my desk.  If there are specialty items you only pull out a few times a year, they probably don’t deserve a space in your immediate work area.  Put them in bins, label them, and store in a closet where you can still easily find them, but they aren’t taking up valuable real estate at your desk.
Still getting together your school supplies for the semester?  Don't forget to take a look at The Ultimate Back-to-College School Supplies List (including a free printable checklist)!

Principle #3: Create a Good Workflow

Have an inbox and an outbox to keep papers from getting lost or cluttering your space. | https://thecafescholar.com

In addition to the items you “use” in your workspace, which Matt Perman calls permanent items, you will also have transient items.  These are items that are coming or going, or that you are using for a particular project.  Think about what comes in and what comes out.  You will want some kind of inbox (I use a shelf storage tote like this one) and an outbox for things like outgoing mail or items that you need to take on an errand.  Have a trash can and recycle bin easily accessible right next to your desk, and if you need to shred sensitive documents often, you’ll want either a shredder nearby or a shred bin or even a folder to collect those items.
Most of your notes for current projects will probably be in a folder or binder that you keep in your backpack when not working on the project, or will be electronic.  If you are finding yourself having a lot of “in progress” tasks with corresponding papers that end up on your desk, use a mail sorter, a step file organizer, one of these hanging wall files to get those off your desk. If your desk has file drawers, use the first section for these “in progress” items.
If this post has you inspired to redo your workspace, I highly recommend Matt Perman’s How to Set Up Your Desk. This book  is very quick read and it changed the way I use my workspace both at home and at work.
Now, passing it off to you: what change will you make to your desk this week to help you study smarter?
For even more productivity goodies, check out my post on how creating a nightly routine can boost your productivity.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

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