This article was published on April 23, 2013

How to arrange your desk for maximum productivity

How to arrange your desk for maximum productivity
Alex Wilhelm
Story by

Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

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Let’s be frank: you spend more time at your desk than is reasonable. Given that we live in the pale glow of monitor light, how we construct and maintain our workspace isn’t a small subject. Today we’re going to go over a few simple tips on how to best arrange your desk so that you can get more done, and do so more quickly than before.

After all, if you are going to sit and type, you may as well get as much done as possible. Heck, get enough done, and you might get to go home early. Let’s begin.

Desk: Size?

To be frank, you need space. Your chair-desk in college was roughly the size of a matchbox, but now that you are an adult, you deserve square footage. No, you likely don’t need a L-shape wrap around desk, or an X-shaped desk like the traders of yore, but you will need enough space to hold significant hardware – more on that in a moment.

To be frank, you can spend as much money on a desk as you have, or as little. There are cheap, functional options however that I recommend. Head to your local Ikea or a similar store, and create your own. They have desk components that will allow you to quickly assemble a simple table-desk that will serve you perfectly. If you have a larger budget, don’t go overboard, and don’t buy something that you will worry about spilling on; many of us eat a decent portion of lunches at our desks, and to fret about spillage is just extra stress that you don’t need.

Small note: The color of your desktop should be pleasing to your eyes. You will glance at it hundreds of times per day. Choose wisely.

As an addendum to this, your chariot is something that you may want to spend a bit more on. A good office chair will help your posture, and general health. This is one item that is different for everyone. Sit in everything, and find what is best for you. I know a startup in San Francisco that provides flexible, short stools for its employees if they wish; they have proven so popular that half its office now uses the odd chairs.


You need one more than you currently have, unless you have five. If you have but one at the moment, a second will change your life far for the better. If you have two, a third will help you in ways you honestly cannot name until you have the fresh pixel space.


Why do monitors matter? They extend your mind, essentially. No more do you have to quickly tab through applications and windows to interact with different sets of information; when you have sufficient monitors; simply pull up the data across your screens, and glance back and forth. This will save you minutes per hour, easily.

I know that the social Internet isn’t for everyone, but if you are the sort of person who tracks Twitter, or Facebook, or Pinterest, or any other such tool, an extra screen will be more than revelatory – it will better sync you to the pulse of the Web that you are looking to command. Your friends will be shocked at how informed you are.


Clutter is the enemy of productivity in a desk environment. Banish it as if each soda can, wrapper, napkin, take-out box, and stray pen is an foreign soldier arrayed to destroy your output. Not only does such rubbish directly slow your physical motions as you type and beaver away, but the clutter on your desk will clutter your mind; distractions are to be minimized, and not encouraged.

Whenever you stand up from your desk, put something away, or throw something away. If you stick to this simple rule, you will always have the neatest desk in your office. And, heck, this way everyone can gawk at your beautiful monitors and well-appointed desk without having to peer through foliage!


92450205It may not be possible, but natural light is a beautiful addition to any desk. I don’t mean that it will make your setup look nicer – it may, but that is immaterial – but instead that it is good for your mind. A functional work environment is one in which you are supported, body and soul. If there is a window near you, open it. If there is a drape next to your desk, raise it.

Even if the weather outside is a bit nasty, better connecting yourself to the physical world, even as you immerse yourself into the digital realm. Feeling a sunray on your face, or a cool breeze across your fingers as they type is surprisingly cathartic. You will smile.

Health-conscious desk = more productive?

A trend in recent years has been the rise in health-focused desks and chairs. Whether these make you more productive is down to your personal taste, but if a healthy body equals a healthy mind, then from standing desks to exercise ball chairs, they’re worth considering.

Small Bites

The team here at TNW are productivity fanatics. We asked around and were told a few things that our writers do to help keep their copy flowing, and their minds sane.

A few examples:

  • Large (and expensive) mousemats like the SteelSeries SX are worth their weight in gold.
  • Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, but once you go mechanical, you don’t go back. Buy a damned expensive keyboard. Again, this cannot be priced effectively, as once you fall in love with a professional set of keys, no one could buy it from you at any price.
  • External noise is a foe, buy noise-cancelling headphones if you need them. You can make a cheap pair by slapping earmuffs over earbuds.

Final Thoughts

It may be that your workspace isn’t flexible, or you lack space, or time, or funds to improve your setup. It’s okay, you can upgrade in small pieces. Every month, try to make one addition – or, critically, a subtraction – to your workstation. Your desk will thank you.

Just keep in mind that your mind uses your desk and your desk helps your mind. So long as that relationship is clear to you, you’ll know what to do. Get working!

Image credits: Comstock Images / Thinkstock; Thinkstock; Thinkstock

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