Not Recommended: Desk Organizer Things

Post 10 in the series: Recommended Productivity Tools

Avoid desk organizers, such as the one above, at all costs.

Here’s why: They are designed, by nature, to hold things that should not be on your desk in the first place. So the result is that they don’t organize you; instead, they increase clutter.

For example, look at the above organizer. There is a spot for paper clips. But paper clips should not be on your desk. They should be in a drawer (as discussed in the first post).

There is a spot to keep pens and pencils as well — encouraging you to keep several of each on your desk, in fact. But you only need to keep one pen (or, at most, two) right on your desk, and a pencil probably not at all. All extra pens, and pencils, go in the drawer (again, as discussed in my first post). The one pen you keep on your desk just lays flat on the desk. It doesn’t need an organizer.

Keeping more than 2 pens on your desk is generally not necessary and so just serves to clutter your work environment, creating drag. If you do want to use a pen cup, however, then get just an ordinary pen cup that is just a single cup. Don’t get one of those huge organizers, such as above, that takes up all that space. Also, if you do get a pen cup, get a wire mesh one, not a plastic one, because it looks better.

Desk organizer things illustrate one principle really well: Getting organized is not first a matter of having the right “item” to get you organized. Many such items actually just create clutter. Getting organized is first about knowing what tools you need to have and some basic principles for how to arrange them for easy access with minimal clutter.

Posts in This Series

  1. Recommended Productivity Tools: An Introduction
  2. The Tools You Need to Have (And Where to Keep Them)
  3. Recommended In Boxes
  4. Recommended Capture Journals
  5. Recommended Pens
  6. Recommended Pencils and Paper Pads
  7. Recommended Staplers, Staple Removers, and Tape
  8. Recommended Scissors, Letter Openers, and Post-Its
  9. Recommended Paper Clips and Super Glue
  10. Not Recommended: Desktop Organizer Things
  11. Recommended Chairs and Waste Baskets
  12. Recommended Labelers and File Folders
  13. Recommended File Cabinets and Bookshelves
  • Mike Anderson

    I have a small bamboo open top box on my desk that holds my phone, wallet, bluetooth and keys. I hate having them in my pocket while sitting for long periods of time, but need quick access.

    Oh—productivity guru, am I making a mistake?

  • Matt


    Great to hear from you. I’m with you on your main idea here. I take those things out of my pockets as well, but put them in a drawer. So I keep the front part of a certain drawer clear of anything else so I can put them in it when I get into the office. I thought about mentioning that in the first post in the series, but it ended up being long as it was.

    If you like putting those things on a bamboo box on your desk, and there’s room, more power to you. Bamboo is cool. Putting these things in a box on top of your desk is much better than keeping pens, pencils, and paper clips in one of those organizers, which often just end up becoming a strange form of (little used) decoration.

  • Jeffrey J. Stables

    Any analogous advice for those of us who don’t have drawers (either because of campus housing furniture or cheap Ikea furniture during college)?

  • Matt


    If there’s space, and a desire to hold other things as well (pens, etc.), I’d buy a separate drawer unit (which I actually prefer to built-in units in a desk).

    If there is not space for that, then I would get some type of portable box to hold any extra pens/pencils and other such tools in there. I’d keep that box beside or right beneath my desk for access.

    When it came to my wallet and etc., I’d keep it in there if there was a spot for it and it was convenient / seemed right. If not, then I’d have a different box just for the wallet and etc., like what Mike does above. Keeping it on the desk would be fine if preferred, or underneath or beside would be fine if that didn’t get in the way.

  • Laure

    If you have no drawers, but your work space faces or is adjacent to a wall, consider going vertical with peg-boards or cool wall-storage systems (Container Store is a great place to start for inspiration) to keep things off of your desk and yet in easy reach. If you lean modern in your office decor, it can be extremely attractive. If you are more traditional, invest in some drawers. Or maybe use magnetized spice containers and organizers to hold office stuff at hand on the side of a metal file cabinet.