Office-Supply Me
January 6, 2009 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Say you had a desk, at your job, and say you were also pretty disorganized, and so your boss handed you an Office Depot catalog and told you to buy what you wanted as long as it was within reason. What would you buy? What are your ESSENTIAL office supplies?

I pretty much consider this the opportunity of a lifetime but I'm feeling overwhelmed and don't know where to begin. So what do YOU use to organize YOUR desk? We're talking basic, here. Pretend I haven't attempted anything like this since the days of Sanrio pencil boxes. I have also read Getting Things Done and know about inboxes and shit, so something like that would be good. My desk has some drawers, two normal-sized, and one that can be used for hanging file folders. OK, thanks.
posted by granted to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
A picture of your current desk; or issue spots would be helpful.

For me:

* Permanent markers for CD-R's, etc.
* Label Maker (IT Equipment, cabling)
* Velcro Strips (to tie together cabling at my desk)
* Metal "inbox" with vertical folder supports, looks like: |___|V|V|V| where V's are folders.

A liberal trash receptacle.
posted by SirStan at 1:59 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

a lot of it depends on what your personal organizational style is, and what tasks you do, but I have:

pencil cup- for my pens, sharpies, highlighters,etc.
post-it flags- i review paperwork, and these are good for marking mistakes
small notebook or pad for making 'to-do' lists. I'm a write-it-down person. some people like to use computer software or the pda.
one of those magnetic paperclip thingies. I use a ton of paperclips.
Also, a day planner or calendar-- some people like one to hang on the wall, I find it easier to write on if it's on my desk.
scissors , tape, and a stapler are also pretty good to have. Measure your drawers, and buy a couple basic dividers for them.

If you have a lot of reference material, say, binders, or notebooks, magazine holders are good for this (in school I had one for each subject, and used them to keep all of my notebooks, papers, and texts for that class together.) depends on what sort of work you do.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:06 PM on January 6, 2009

(oh. duh, and an in-out box. I get stacking ones, and only have two, but you can stack up however many you need. )
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:11 PM on January 6, 2009

posted by watercarrier at 2:15 PM on January 6, 2009

Colored file folders (easier to spot/remember) and a label maker.
posted by donajo at 2:28 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

What do you do?

A really helpful thing I had when doing phone enquiries, was a sort of desktop 20 page document holder that I could flip through to get phone numbers and relevant material from.

When I had to mail out various information packages, I liked using pigeon hole things, properly labelled so I could grab out everything I needed quickly.

I currently have a couple of full page size 5-drawer sets on my desk, to organise different paper types and plastic sheet protectors.

I couldn't work without my whiteboard and corkboard.
posted by b33j at 2:28 PM on January 6, 2009

If you regularly have a set of files that are pending, clients you are working on and can't file, one of these lets you access the file really quickly.

This was what I was talking about for quick reference for phone calls.

I use something like this to store my sheet protectors.

I have used and liked something similar to this whiteboard calendar so I can see at a glance months of obligations.
posted by b33j at 2:40 PM on January 6, 2009

Oh, and before you start - I thoroughly recommend this book as a guide to how you might set up your office area.
posted by b33j at 2:45 PM on January 6, 2009

Response by poster: What do you do?

I'm a clinical research tech, so about half my time is spent meeting with subjects and half my time is spent swimming in paperwork. I'm tending to about a million tiny projects at any one time. I have a desktop computer, no personal printer. I'd post a picture of my desk but I'm embarrassed. Suffice it to say my current organizational technique is the Pile Method. I'll also be moving to a different office next week (just across the hall). New desk, new life! That's my motto.
posted by granted at 3:14 PM on January 6, 2009

I'm going to also suggest something that would hold vertical files on your desk. Having them in a drawer is "out of sight, out of mind". For my job, I have regular daily tasks and I keep the folders in the order I need to do them. For you, you could pull-out everything that needs to be worked on that day as soon as you get in, and then it'd be at your fingertips all day.
posted by saffry at 3:52 PM on January 6, 2009

Post its help with the pile method--esp the brightly colored ones. You can label the piles. I like brightly colored paper I can make notes so I can visually sort stuff quickly, and paper clips to keep the crap together. Thick Sharpies are good for labeling--they make a note look like a LABEL as opposed to just another scrawled note.

I know you said desktop but I'm also a huge fan of the whiteboard -- no matter what else is going on, the items are the white board are what I'm working on, and that schedule is my priority. It's like a compass.

Lastly, I love to throw things out. I just love it. If I can take a piece of paper off my desk and throw it into the recycling bin, I feel like my world is a saner, more ordered place, where I am An Effective Person who Gets Stuff Done.

(Oh! And bright, multicolored markers for the white board, and whiteboard wipes.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:06 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I too use the Pile Method and have struggled with disarray for years. One of these changed my life. It lets me continue to use the Pile Method, but in a neater and more organized way. I thought about what piles I tended to develop on my desk (intentionally or not), came up with four broad categories, and then labeled the top four bins. (To illustrate what I mean: I'm a legal services lawyer who does a lot of intake and answers a lot of questions, so my piles are New Intakes, To Do This Week, Advise & Close, and Ready to Be Closed.) I will always need these categories. These are my permanent piles. The bottom three bins are flexible piles. If I notice that I'm developing a pile for something, I'll put the pile in one of the bottom bins and stick a label on it.

There isn't unlimited space in these pile spaces, so I use it mainly for things that are moving fast--nothing stays in one of these piles for long. So, for currently active long-term projects and/or things that involve a lot of paper (litigation files, legal research), I use accordion files lined up along the back of my desk, narrow side facing me, labeled with these thingies, which clip on the end of the file facing me.

Inactive stuff goes in a file drawer, hanging files, alphabetical, the usual.

I also keep a couple of frequently used documents (like my phone log and to do list) on a clipboard so I can always find them when the bad piles come back for awhile. Which they will always do.

I don't know about you, but I think the Pile Method is natural to me because I'm visual, and need to be able to see the things that I'm working on. So they kept ending up on my desk--otherwise, out of sight, out of mind. This "system" that I described just came together as I tried to figure out what to do with all my paper, but it works for me because the most active things in my work life are always right there on my desk.

I think the best thing is just to buy some stuff, try some stuff out, and figure out what works for you.
posted by Mavri at 4:14 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here, have a look at mefi desks. Look at the tidy, organized ones and see what might work for you! (And obviously, my workspaces don't qualify for the tidy and organized...)
posted by typewriter at 5:12 PM on January 6, 2009

I like b33j's idea of the wire file holder for your desk. I actually just got one of these, because I think it will make me more inclined to file papers for things that I'm working on all the time.

I also have a binder on my desk (again, as b33j said) that has a bunch of information I have to reference all the time. I have them in clear sheet protectors so the pages don't get messed up. Actually having clear sheet protectors around is useful in general.

I really like having a big full-year calendar on the wall that I can look at to get a quick visual.

This is going to sound silly, but I love retractable hiliters (they click like pens) so I don't lose the tops!
posted by radioamy at 5:17 PM on January 6, 2009

I try to avoid office products as much as possible. I scan all paper documents to PDF files. If I have to borrow a stapler or similar item for the Nth (annoying) time I go to the copy room for this or I hide one in my desk drawer.

I also try to keep my inbox down to less than 5 emails at any time.

This is easy for me because I'm the IT guy. But I am also a minimalist.
posted by ezekieldas at 5:33 PM on January 6, 2009

The single greatest organizer ever.

Is it important enough for me to put it into my Levenger? If the answer is no, then that paper gets pitched.
posted by 26.2 at 6:07 PM on January 6, 2009

I don't think it's about what you buy, I think it's about how you work.

I'm a clinical research tech, so about half my time is spent meeting with subjects and half my time is spent swimming in paperwork. I'm tending to about a million tiny projects at any one time. I have a desktop computer, no personal printer. I'd post a picture of my desk but I'm embarrassed. Suffice it to say my current organizational technique is the Pile Method. I'll also be moving to a different office next week (just across the hall). New desk, new life! That's my motto.

I would suggest each project has its own separate hanging file with a log sheet at the very front. (If you can't fit this in your desk drawer, you need a filing cabinet). On your log sheet, you write the date and last action completed. This also means that anyone else can keep track of where you're up to.

Keep a whiteboard, and dump your to do list out of your brain there so you know what needs to be done, at any time. Have a whiteboard calendar so your interview dates are in plain view, and can be rearranged if necessary. An inbox for stuff you haven't looked at, an outbox for stuff to go into the mail, or to other colleagues. If there's any task you do repetitively (send out interview times to subjects) set up a tray just for that, so you can batch process them.

Have sticky tape, stapler, ruler, pens easily on hand, but out of the way (top drawer of the desk suits me).
posted by b33j at 6:44 PM on January 6, 2009

I used to work at a local mom-and-pop office supply store, so I know all about the pile method. Believe it or not, office supply makers have studied this stuff and cater specifically to those types known as "pile workers". They've got all kinds of things to keep your piles organized and still...everywhere, easy to access, like you like them.

Pendaflex offers them in an actual kit (that should be available either in its entirety through your catalogue or in parts that you can snap up yourself.

I'm not a pile person, but I love those binder clips with labels. They come in funky colors or regular colors, and you can write on them. Particularly handy if you're leaving something for someone else to pick up and they're not familiar with your piles. Or if you're looking and just need to grab the Johnson pile to reference for a project.

The see-through folders work miracles. We had pile people who were customers who loved those things. They resisted regular file folders because they couldn't see what was IN
the things, so they totally messed with their systems. But give them clear folders and they were happy to get crap stashed away in them.

One thing working in office supplies taught me--people get very attached to their supplies. They really can make the difference in making your workday flow smoothly or bog down in hellish chaos. Once, I had a lady nut up on me because Liquid Paper stopped using the brushes in their bottles of white-out. They started using foam wedges and she insisted these did not work the same and were ruining everything. So by all means, listen to these suggestions; you'll see familiar things cropping up that pretty much everyone wants.

And thank your boss. They usually pretend to be oblivious to these sorts of things until their post-it notes run out.
posted by moonlitpines at 6:54 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Hands down, I'd get a Fuji ScanSnap. Seriously, it will change your life. Windows version here.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:56 PM on January 6, 2009

You said that you were into Getting Things Done, so you'll want a good reference filing system. My suggestion is to ditch the hanging files in favor of regular file folders:
  • Start with a labeler. I use a labeler from Brother because they're ubiquitous and it's easy to find tape refills. I chose the linked model because it's cheap and uses the TZ tape which is super easy to peel from its backing.
  • Order at least two tape refills for your labeler. (Oh, and a white background allows you to re-label a folder, unlike a clear background.)
  • As for the folders themselves, get a couple hundred manila file folders. Just make sure that you get "single tab" folders. These folders don't feature the cut-outs commonly found on folders that are handy for thumbing through files. You want single tab so that you have plenty of room to apply your labels.
  • To complete your reference filing system, get a pack of file guides to organize everything alphabetically.
Beyond filing, you'll need a couple paper trays (Inbox, Read/Review), note pads, post-it notes, tape, scissors, paper clips, binder clips, pencils, pens, highlighters, and of course staples and a stapler. When you order yourself a stapler, do yourself a favor and order a good one. My suggestion is the Swingline 747. All metal construction that will outlast your career. You'll be able to will that sucker to your grandchildren.

(Yes, I am an office supply geek.)
posted by perrce at 8:10 PM on January 6, 2009

Never underestimate the value of a good pen.

Ball point ink won't run if it gets wet so if you spill, go that way. Me, I cannot live in a world without fine-point gel roller pens and 1.18mm mechanical pencils.

Although we had some learned new ideas about vetwrap in this thread, I use it for wires and cables.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:26 PM on January 6, 2009

As others have said, what works for one person won't work for another; the way I organize my own desk would not necessarily have anything to do with how I organize a client. (I'm a professional organizer.)

But the main things I use are:
- Hanging file folders, any color, and the large (1/3 cut) plastic tab things.
- Colored file folders with a straight-cut reinforced tab. I don't often use file folders, but my client files are all lavender, and my networking group files are all yellow. Personally, I just hate manila. You'll very seldom see these files in an office supply store; I order them on-line, and not from Office Depot.
- A good label maker; mine is a Brother PT-1950/1960. And as someone else noted, plenty of spare label tapes, black on white.
- A favorite coffee mug I use as a pen cup.
- A good stapler.
- A Fujitsu ScanSnap, Mac version.
- A file drawer I can reach without getting up from my desk, for the things I use most often. Other file cabinets for things I don't use as much.
- A bookshelf.
- A good shredder.
posted by jeri at 10:06 PM on January 6, 2009

I love the really cheap ergonomic plastic letter openers. Go through a dozen a so per year.

Gotta have some color coded Pendaflexes and a red Swingline 747 too.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:55 PM on January 6, 2009

Keep it as simple as possible, sometimes the supplies themselves just turn in to clutter and get in the way. Start with basics and go from there:
-large bulletin board for frequently used phone numbers, calendar, whatever else you need to see at a glance and dryerase board on another wall for weekly priorities. I hope you have walls for these, they make a huge difference in my office.
-angled desktop rack file holder, or maybe even two. THESE ARE ESSENTIAL.
-your own small printer/fax if your office is set up to do so. They are not expensive.
-hanging file system for your desk drawer
-good stapler, electric if possible, I swear it makes a difference
-sturdy clipboard with letter-size pads inside the clip for daily notes
-sticky notes, tape, paper clips, pen holder, calculator
-small bookshelf to hold notebooks, supplies, etc. Trays to go inside some of the shelves.
-small rolodex to keep contacts at your fingertips. Mine is a

I've never been able to get used using trays and inboxes on my desk. To me, they just take up more room. I just put my to-do pile on one side of my desk and work across the top, with another "done" pile on the other side.
posted by raisingsand at 6:23 AM on January 7, 2009

I would recommend a dry-erase board to hang up in your office/cube. I got one a few months ago and it has dramatically improved my workflow. I keep it in line-of-sight so I'm constantly reminded of project statuses and due dates.
posted by LouMac at 7:30 AM on January 7, 2009

It's a little thing, but I swear by the Post It Pop-Up Dispenser. I'm not sure why, but it just makes the world a little easier. :-)
posted by CrazyGabby at 4:25 PM on January 7, 2009

I'll echo the suggestions of a scanner. It's so much easier to find stuff in virtual piles. I forced myself to go paperless several months ago. The first month was rough, but absolutely worth it.
posted by paisley at 8:50 PM on February 15, 2009

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