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Why You Should Dress Your Desk for Success

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pretty office

Your desk is your haven, your personal launch pad for brilliance and all the amazing gems you drop during the day.

It’s also what everyone sees when they step into your cube or office, not to mention a representation of you when you’re not there. People who walk by look at it and get a picture of who you are—for example, an immaculately clean worker with a thing for 90-degree angles, or a compulsive pack rat with a thing for making towers out of her empty gum and Altoids packages. (I have worked with that person, and before you judge, I have to say it looked kind of cool.)

So looking professional matters, but so do functionality and personality. Below is a guide to help you attain the awesome-desk trifecta:

DOs:

Massive desk-pad calendars

In the age of Google Calendar and iCal and every other techy scheduling tool you can think of, it may seem silly to have one of these around, but it’s great to have for a whole mess of reasons:

1. It’s quite possibly free in your office supply room.

2. It allows you to do basic scheduling at the quickest glance. Some crazy business associate wants to meet you at 8:00 a.m. on March 2nd? “Sure,” you might say, until you glance over and see that that means 8:00 a.m. on a SATURDAY. Oh, buddy, I don’t even need to look at my Outlook calendar to tell you that we’re rescheduling.

3. It’s a socially acceptable way to have half of your desk covered with a doodle pad. This is important not only so that you can perfect your invisible cubes and cartoon Holsteins, but also for scratching down ideas, contact information, etc. that you get on the phone. And you won’t lose it. If anything, you’ll be forced to transfer all of that stuff to someplace more permanent (or scrap it) at the end of the month. Win win win.

Photographs

There will come a day (for some people, every other day, or perhaps every five minutes) when you leave a long, pointless meeting or get off of a patience-taxing phone call and decide that you are going to slam your head in the cabinet drawer for a while or maybe just stand on your desk, calmly drop your monitor from eight feet up, and stride purposefully out of your coworkers’ lives for good.

This is when you look at the photo of your child, sweetheart, pet, siblings, etc. and take a deep breath and realize that life doesn’t quite suck that badly. (And if it does, go home and dust off your resume.)

Reusable water bottle

Hydration is important, and so is saving Mother Earth. Boom! Two birds, one stone. You’re welcome. Moving on…

Disinfectant wipes

For counteracting scuzz (see below).

DON’Ts:

Anything that broadcasts your religious or political beliefs

Unless you’re working at a church or for a political campaign, in which case, duh.

For those of you who really want to put up your old Perot bumper stickers or cross-stitched Bible verses: I hear you. I really do. I have some firm religious beliefs of my own (for example, on the D.C. Metro escalators, we walk on the LEFT and stand on the RIGHT, end of story). I also have some firm political beliefs (i.e., that elected officials should do stuff).

But still, it’s all stuff I keep to myself. There are so many ways to alienate your coworkers. Don’t scare those lovely people off prematurely by letting them know you’re a die-hard believer in whatever they find abhorrent.

And while we’re throwing things away…

As long as we’re purging our desks of beliefs, here’s a word about other messages we broadcast. I’m speaking of those coffee mugs with attitude that some people own that broadcast (generally gendered) messages about how “I love CHOCOLATE, amiright, ladies?” and sassy observations about menopause or about how “bald men do it better” and so on. Yeah, this is just my opinion, but while these might be funny to you, they project a lot more of something else—subtle discomfort about gender roles, bitterness over the inexorable decline of one’s body, ennui about the human condition—than humor.

Also, they’re annoying.

Your feet

Seriously—were you born in a barn?

Nail clippers

If you MUST have these at work, please, please, please write a note on them that says “DO NOT USE AT YOUR DESK.” This goes for anything else that might make your coworkers retch if they catch you using it: floss, a hairbrush (shedding everywhere), etc.

Scuzz

Do you know what is in the dust that collects everywhere? GROSSNESS, that’s what. Lint, yes, but also food crumbs, skin cells, decaying insect parts and so on. And if you clip your nails, floss, brush your hair at your desk, etc., you’re only making it worse. The serious point here: wipe your desk down at least once a year, whether it needs it or not.

Danielle Kurtzleben (@titonka) is a journalist in Washington, D.C. She should really clean her morning oatmeal bowl before she lets it sit out on her desk all day.

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