Where to Put Your Desk

Note: The following is Post 5 in the series “How to Set Up Your Desk.”  This series has been developed further and is now available as an ebook on Amazon

The place where you put your desk depends upon the type of desk configuration you have and the structure of the room/work area. The nature of your work area can place significant limitations on you that can’t fully be worked around. But I’ll present the ideal, and then suggest some work arounds.

The Principles

There are three main principles here.

1. Don’t Make Your Desk Face the Wall
This will likely make you feel boxed in.

2. Don’t Have Your Back to the Door/Entrance
Having your back to the door is also to be avoided, because as Organizing for Dummies points out so well, “many a worker can vouch that this placement … makes you susceptible to scares when people walk up behind you” (190). This is called “cubicle paranoia.”

This being susceptible to scares is also called “cubicle paranoia.”

Also, having your back to the door is less welcoming.

3. If Possible, Make Your Desk Face Perpendicular to the Door/Entrance
This gives the right combination of concentration and control. You can see the door and aren’t walled up, but aren’t directly facing the door or entrance so as to be distracted every time someone walks by.

This isn’t always possible, however. Facing the entrance directly, then, is a close second. Some people might prefer this most of all. The most important thing is not to face the wall or away from the door.

Applying the Principles

Now, with an L-shaped or U-shaped desk, obviously part of the desk is going to have to be against the wall. The point is that the place where you sit should not face the wall or away from the entrance.

I’ve found that the best way to make this work is to place my monitor in the corner of the “L” shape of my desk. This maximize the use of space, since typically that is the deepest part of the desk and thus accommodates the monitor best, and allows me to face the entrance as much as possible. Here’s an example from my office at home:

Now, I mentioned in my previous post the “left to right” workflow pattern. This affects your placement very much if you use the L-shaped or U-shaped configurations. For your inbox and all of your equipment goes on your left side. The right side is kept open so that you can greet visitors and so that if they sit down there isn’t stuff in the way across the desktop.

For example, if you have a room like the following and an L-shaped configuration, do this:

desk 1

But not this:

desk 2

Sometimes, the layout of the room makes it impossible to implement the above principles completely.

In those cases, do the best you can. If you have a cubicle, for example, you may just have to put up with having your back to the entrance of your work area because that’s simply how most cubicles are designed. If that’s the way it has to be, that’s fine.

If you are in an office, doors and windows can often be in weird places that limit your options.

But the point is, don’t face the wall or away from the entrance if you don’t have to. Be intentional about your office layout. Don’t have your back to the door just because it seemed initially like the easiest way to set things up.

Posts in This Series

  1. How to Set Up Your Desk: An Introduction
  2. How to Set Up Your Desk: Basic Principles
  3. Excursus: Against Desk Hotels
  4. The Four Ways to Configure a Desk
  5. Where to Put Your Desk
  6. What to Put on Your Desktop and How to Use It
  7. What to Put in Your Desk Drawers and How to Use Them
  8. The Rest of the Room: How to Set Up Your Office
  • Kirk

    I’m currently setting up an office that I’m moving into. I have an L-shaped desk. I’ve never like the idea of having a desk be a barrier between me and a “guest(s)” coming into my office. I also did not want to be distracted by what is a very busy hallway outside my door and fighting an unfounded rumor of me “hiding out in my office” (the old one) I will be leaving my door open fully 99% of the time. To complete all this I have inadvertently set it up the way you recommend not doing – your second diagram of “But not this.”
    Before I start hanging pictures and getting cozy, do you have any other suggestions?

  • Matt

    Kirk: My only suggestion before hanging pictures and etc. is to give it a few days (if you haven’t already) to make sure you like the setup. If so, then go for it!

  • Shanti

    Thanks for your articles, they’ve been really helpful.

    I have a study room at home which isn’t that big with the door and window directly opposite each other which forms the left hand side of the room. I’m trying to understand the best way to set up an L-shaped desk (made of two desks) in the room and the best I can work with (I think) is to have one desk along the window wall and the other coming out. My back would be to the wall with the window on the left and the door on the right. Is this the right kind of setup or is there a more efficient way of arranging the room?

    Any advice appreciated. Thanks.

  • Kat H

    I’m in a similar situation as Kirk above. I have an L-shape desk and currently I face out the door into the hallway. I’m fine with this, but I have rotated my desk around and now am facing the inside corner.

    I did this because my office is very small and I have 3 oversized filing cabinets I MUST keep in here (I’ve already asked about at least switching them out and was told no). With the desk in its original position, having the front stick out just made the space feel smaller. At least having the L-shape hug the walls opened up the middle of the room and my office doesn’t seem so tiny, anymore.

    I, too, like Kirk have colorful, homey touches everywhere and I am honestly so distracted by the work I’m doing that I don’t even notice, really, that I’m facing the wall. And with a quick glance to my left, I can still see out the door and into the hallway when needed.

  • Bluesdealer

    Great article, but where are the images for post 5? I’m only seeing one out of three.

  • SamC89

    What’s interesting is that all these are feng shui principles as well.