How To Clean Your Desk & Keep it Clean Permanently

Bonus: Be ready for tax filing by the end of the year!

As a home-based business, personal and business documents can quickly become overwhelming. However, when you follow a simple system and get in the habit of sorting frequently, you will feel less stressed, less overwhelmed, and much more productive. Not to mention that you’ll probably save a few hours each week by NOT having to search for “lost” paperwork! Any time you need an important document, it’s right there at your fingertips.


This very simple system gets you in the habit of grouping. Just group similar documents together, and label them. Paperwork is much easier to process if you are only dealing with one handful of similar items at a time.

Using this system, you have current profit-and-loss calculations available at any time. As a big bonus, you can easily complete your bookkeeping by December 31st each year — and your business deductions are ready for your accountant to prepare your tax return early!

  1. IN Box. Place a shallow “IN” box or shoe box near your desk.

  2. Disposal Bins. Put 3 wastebaskets nearby and label as follows: trash bin, recycle bin, shred bin.

  3. Filing Sorters. Put 2 plastic/wire stand-up desktop file sorters near your desk. Label one “Personal” and the other “Business”. In each sorter, insert the following file folders. Plastic “box bottom” file folders are large enough to hold lots of paper (and nothing falls out the sides) and are also color coded. Label each folder (with a label maker or black Sharpie marker) for quick reference.

    Personal Documents - need 7 file folders

    • Incoming / To Sort
    • To Do
    • Bills Due
    • Receipts Paid
    • Income Received
    • Bank Statements
    • To File / Misc.

    Business Documents - need 10 file folders

    • Incoming / To Sort
    • To Do
    • Bills Due
    • Receipts Paid
    • Income Received
    • Bank Statements
    • Events Upcoming
    • Schedules Past
    • Contacts - New
    • To File / Misc.
  4. Initial Sort. Gather all your piled-up documents into boxes. Then, quickly scan each document and toss it into the correct file folder as listed above. It takes less time than you think — if your desk is super messy and piled up, then maybe an hour or two. You’ll be surprised how much lighter you feel and “on top” of things. You can toss the temporary boxes, as now you’ll be using your IN box on a daily basis.

  5. Special Projects. You may have large, ongoing projects which are too large to toss into the file folders. If so, a project may need its own file folder in your file cabinet. Or maybe its own box, if the project is large. Remember to label it so you can locate it quickly!


You’ll get in the habit of sorting into your file folders quickly. Then carve out a little time each week and each month to empty the file folders and enter the data into your computer. Now, just press a button and print your tax info at the end of the year!

  1. Daily Maintenance. Every day when you get your mail, sort it immediately. Remember to empty the receipts and papers from your pockets, purse, and car into the IN box. Put the generic junk mail (newspapers & magazines) into the RECYCLE bin, and the personalized junk mail (containing your name or other info) into the SHRED bin. It’s easiest if you sort your mail as soon as you get it, but if you’re in a big hurry, you can toss everything into the IN box and sort it all the next day.

  2. Weekly Finish-Up. Every week, enter the Receipts Paid file folder contents and the Income Received file folder contents in your bookkeeping computer system, then file away in your filing cabinet. Also every week, enter New Contacts (business cards) in your contact database, put them on your follow-up schedule, and then toss the cards.

  3. Monthly Finish-Up. Each month, pull your bank statements (both personal and business) from the file folders and balance them. Then file them in your filing cabinet. Run your monthly reports, such as Income/Expenses, Cash Flow, and Profit & Loss. You are now prepared for any financial statement, and ready for your tax return!

  4. Document Disposal. The documents in the SHRED bin should be completely cross-cut shredded or burned in your fireplace (be sure to supervise). The RECYCLE bin documents can be recycled in a brown paper bag with your trash pick-up (hopefully your city recycles; if not, take it to a recycle collection station).

Here’s another great habit: every day when you get out of your car, take your papers in the office with you. Don’t leave documents in your car overnight (especially if the documents have confidential or sensitive data, such as clients’ info). And to further reduce your risk of your clients becoming victims of identity theft (due to your carelessness), be sure to keep your office door locked at all times!

Getting and staying organized is easy. It’s about creating a few simple habits for yourself. And then following your system!



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Dear Riley,

Another useful article from you. But I wish you write another article - How to goad yourself into doing filing promptly!


By Anonymous

Love this one! Indeed, clutters can affect my mind set and being organized is just as refreshing as a glassful of iced lemonade under a searing heat! Thanks for the article.

By Greg Quimpo

Yes , I too really need to organise myself..great article.

By jasmin nanda

Timely for the start of the year. I can really use this.

By Mary Norton

Good information

By Marion Cornett