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8 tips to help keep your computer desk neat and tidy

Ask any highly organised person what he or she needs in order to get work done, and invariably you'll hear the answer: "I need to start in a clean space." Keeping the physical space around your computer neat can be as important to your productivity as keeping the files on your machine in order. Our workstations greatly influence our behaviour, mood, and state of mind, so if you want to feel ready to tackle the day, you need to keep your desk area organised.

The eight tips in this list come from my own insight and habits, as well as those of several colleagues and experts, including a professional organiser and the CEO of a company that helps people maintain a paperless life.

These suggestions are all very simple to implement, and most of them cost little to nothing at all. You're likely to have at least some of the supplies you'll need on hand, and the rest can be found at most office supply stores, or even the DIY store, which is where I buy most of my organisational accessories.

Use Velcro to mount your keyboard when not in use

Professional prototype designer Zack Freedman posted a video of a simple trick he whipped up to clear his desk quickly when he needs to break out the soldering iron (but you can use it, too, even if you're not going to be melting metal). Freedman put a strip of Velcro on the back of his wireless keyboard and mouse, and placed the connective strips on the edge of his desk, where he can stick the peripherals.

He recommends putting the soft side of the Velcro on the keyboard close to the raised end so it doesn't get in the way of the keyboard's feet. And don't apply too much Velcro as it could ruin the finish on your desk or devices. Freedman tweets many of his inventive hardware tips, so follow him for more.

Muffle vibrating phones with screen cloths

Fellow software analyst Max Eddy rests his phone on a screen-cleaning cloth to keep it quiet when it's in vibrate mode. The phone still makes enough noise for him to notice, but it doesn't disturb anyone else around him… including me. It's also a great idea to keep a cloth on hand regardless of where you put your phone, so you can wipe down your touchscreen devices from time to time.

Keep your keyboard dust-free with screen cloths

Here's another use for screen-cleaning cloths: At the end of the day drape an oversized screen-cleaning cloth over your keyboard to protect it from dust. I do this at home with both my keyboard and my trackpad, because my computer desk sits near a window where a lot of dust and city grit collects.

Store USB sticks and paperclips in repurposed gift boxes

You know those tins and decorative boxes you get with random gifts or packaging, the ones you always keep because you think they will be really useful but never are? Here's your chance to use them. Keep USB sticks or paperclips inside them. If the box is flat, you can even stack a pencil caddy on top of it. (That's what I do to minimise the footprint of items on my desk).

Label folders, chargers, and other accessories

Barbara Reich, a professional organiser and author based in New York, keeps a label maker on hand to print labels for folders, but also for chargers and other tech accessories. For example, you can label the different cords either by their corresponding devices, or by the family member or office mate who owns them. Incidentally, our recommendation for a label printer is the Brother P-touch PT-2730, which runs to around £85 – although you don’t have to spend that much if you don’t want to, of course.

Bundle wires and cables with Velcro One-Wraps

Musicians who drive around vans that are full of amps and guitars are well-versed in the utility of Velcro One-Wraps. They cost a few quid for a five-pack in various colours. I'm not a musician, but I use them to keep wires and cables bundled together, in order, and out of the way of my swinging feet beneath my desk. If you buy long enough cord wraps, you can secure them around the leg of a desk to keep the wires firmly in place.

Hang or guide wires with command hooks

Here's another tip for keeping your wires and cords in place and not all over your desk or floor. I use this one on my home entertainment system, but it'll work at a desk workstation, too. Command Hooks (those stick-on hooks that peel off surfaces without damaging them) affixed on the back corners of my media centre hold audio and HDMI cables in place so I can grab them easily when I need them, and hide them when I don't. When stuck to the back of a desk, Command Hooks guide wires along their path in the same way that nail-in coaxial cable clips guide cables along a skirting board to your television.

Digitise paperwork, recycle everything without a thought

It's no wonder that the CEO of Doxo, a company that offers an online file management service, shared a tip about going paperless.

Steve Shivers sent in this tip: "I immediately read and recycle incoming [physical] mail, and snap pictures of receipts and upload them to my personal storage service, along with invoices, account info, and other important documents. By creating and organising digital copies, I never have to think twice about recycling a piece of paper to reduce clutter."