How To Set Up Your Modern Office Desk

Autonomous Autonomous | Sep 9, 2019

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There are a few universal milestones of high-level adulting: getting proper kitchen utensils and setting up your bedroom for actual sleep, for example. There’s nothing like the feeling of finally having a proper blender to start the morning with a supercharging smoothie. Or the success you know you’ve achieved once you understand splurging on sheets with a higher thread count. Whether you finally stopped having to borrow a wine opener from your neighbor yesterday or 20 years ago, we all know what those moments feel like.

We’re here to say that properly upgrading your workspace with modern office furniture should also be considered one of these milestones. No matter if you work from home, a big office or in a classroom, wherever you do the most work should be just as thought out as where you cook and sleep. So if you haven’t yet, or if you’re looking to redesign your office space, muster up some focus and put some time aside to give your office desk the attention it deserves.

We got this.

There are several angles to take on this: research, organizational theories, anecdotal evidence, etc. There’s a raging debate out there about how an organized desk can transform your life and what a messy desk says about your intelligence and creative capacities. We won’t take sides. If a tidy desk sets your mind at ease, read the first part. If focusing more on the atmosphere of your surroundings and less on the details is your style, read part two. Or read both and see what sounds right.

Tips for everyone to revamp the modern office desk

  • Turn your workspace set up to be an ergonomic office

This is fundamental. Repetitive stress injuries are the number one work-related health issue in the United States. It can hamper not only your productivity but can also cause headaches and pain, which can, in turn, affect your mood. Basic ergonomics is not as hard as you might imagine, it’s just about aligning your body with your office desk and office chair. Here’s a great graphic from Computing Comfort and an ergonomic calculator to help you out.

Wherever you fall on the sitting-is-bad/standing-is-bad issue (I think you know where we stand), consider getting a sit-to-stand desk. Most research on this does conclude that we should alternate regularly between sitting, standing and moving throughout the day. Also, research on having autonomy over your workspace shows that being able to control whether you sit or stand has also been proven to boost productivity, even if you only stand a few times a day for limited periods of time.

In almost every article, listicle, white-paper and blog post we’ve read about setting up a desk, one tip resounded throughout: get some greenery. Just do it. Plants are grounding, relaxing, comforting and many of them improve the air around you.

Once you’ve adjusted the height of your desk and chair to make sure you’re sitting and standing properly, and gotten at least a small cactus for your desk, it’s time to...

  • Set up your modern office desk with a system

Only plants allowed.

Marie Kondo’s KonMari office advice

The queen of tidying up has dispensed some free advice over the years about office desks and workspaces in particular. Here are a few easy steps to follow:

  • Visualize your workspace

Take a moment to imagine what your ideal ergonomic office would look like. But wait, not just a beautiful workspace that makes you feel good when you look at it. Imagine an ergonomic workspace that’s functional, has everything you actually need and brings you joy.

  • Consider

Now, as you begin to declutter your office desk, consider each object you come across. Hypothetically: Why were you keeping a six-month-old instruction manual for something? Does it actually need to be filed away or are you feeding into your own anxiety about being unprepared by hanging on to an instruction manual you can download as a PDF when you need it? After some introspection, take a look at what’s left. It can be a telling reflection of how you’d like to evolve with your modern office desk.

  • Curate

Don’t hang on to objects because you felt you needed them in the past or you think you might need them in the future. Thank these objects, and then store or give them away. Make sure that what is left on your modern office desk is what you need now, that it facilitates what you do at that desk and that when you hold it in your hand for a moment, you register joy.

Check out our guide on must-have sit-to-stand desk accessories if you think they benefit you.

5S system - Set up your modern office desk following hi-tech manufacturing guidelines

A more barebones alternative to the KonMari method, the 5s system was developed in Japan to make manufacturing leaner. Since then it has gone mainstream in many offices as the core tenant of a “clean office desk” policy. Despite some arguments that a top-down imposed clean desk policy makes workers feel stifled, Michael Hyatt, best-selling author of books on productivity, stands by the idea that “clutter is death” (- Randy Pausch). Here are the guidelines for your own clean desk policy, via Hyatt:

  1. Seiri or Sort: Check everything on your desk to confirm what you actually need and what can be moved away.
  2. Seiton or Set In Order: Design an order for where things should go, ensuring the items you eliminated in the sort step are not included in your new order.
  3. Seiso or Shine: Clean your desk! From the outsides of filing cabinets to the inside of your drawers, clean away any debris such as paper clips or scrap paper.
  4. Seiketsu or Standardize: Now that your modern office desk space is a clean, fresh zone, create a standardized workflow for how you will bring new materials to the space to ensure it stays tidy.
  5. Shitsuke or Sustain: Stick to this new process and system of working.

Feng Shui Bagua Map

If you’re already a tidy person, or you want another system to complement the KonMari method, you can use the Bagua map from Feng Shui to simultaneously attract positive energy and have a set arrangement for your desk. Read more about how to Feng Shui your office here and here.

Tips for people who want to create an environment at their office desk

  • Lighting

Beyond plants, lighting may be the second most important element of a space. Lighting not only influences our psychology but also our biological responses to our environment. The lighting around you should be no brighter than the light your computer is admitting, a 60-watt lamp supplemented by ambient natural light will minimize eye strain. In the evening, go for 40 watt (10 watt LED).

For more research on how environmental factors influence our productivity, see this Well Living Lab experiment by the Mayo Clinic. Your computer screen also falls under “lighting”, so don’t forget to install F.lux, which automatically adjusts the warmth of the light your computer is admitting to keep from straining your eyes and messing with your sleep.

Optimizing the amount of natural light in an office design significantly improves health and wellness among workers, leading to gains in productivity. If you consider all these factors, then add on the health benefits of some good old fashioned vitamin D, the evidence becomes pretty overwhelming that natural light is something you need to implement in your new office design. We already laid out important steps in the article about setting up your modern office space to maximize natural light. You can check that out.

  • Inspiration

“In a culture obsessed with measuring talent and ability, we often overlook the important role of inspiration.” — Scott Barry Kaufman, Harvard Business Review.

Whether it’s a visual or textual reminder of why you do what you do, don’t discount the power of having inspiration and encouragement around you. That might be a picture of your family, a quote or a poem. À la KonMari method, don’t forget to refresh these regularly with what sparks joy for you in the moment.

Easy modern office desk organization hacks

For those of us who aren’t into completely decluttering our office desks but still need basic organization, you don’t necessarily need to go buy a bunch of stuff. Here are a few interesting, easy ways to repurpose household items with a little hot glue.

  • Color

Color, like lighting, plays a very important role in setting the tone of your workspace. Consider what kind of vibes you need to balance your natural state. If you’re a high-strung person, opt for blue and green color accents at your desk, which are calming and stimulate creativity. If you tend to daydream, opt for red, yellow and orange, which encourage focus, attention to detail and help with multitasking.

Also, consider Philips Hue light strips for a fun way to get both nice lighting and color at your desk. (Idea thanks to Chris from DailyTekk).

Also, check out our guide on how to color hack your workspace for more productivity

Setting up your modern office desk can be an arduous task, but we guarantee you that the reward of a clear and clean workspace will be worth all your effort.

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