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How I Finally Organized My Desk

Posted October 28, 2013 by Kelley Long in Life After Five


As a visual learner, my desk is usually a mess during the day (yes, that’s my desk in the photo) – I need a visual reminder to do something or it is “out of sight, out of mind,” literally. It may look like I’m disorganized or perhaps a bit frazzled, but my desk is really just a giant to-do list. I’m totally on top of it as long as I have something I can see to remind me what I need to do. As such, if I clear a missed call off my phone before I’m ready to call someone back, they may never hear back from me.

But all that clutter also stressed me out and I needed to find a way to at least get it clean at the end of each day. A messy desk was sending a message to my colleagues that I wasn’t on the ball – it was high time I organized my desk. That’s when I found the book Work Smart, Not Hard! by Jane Schulte. In the book, Schulte introduces her PEND system. PEND = Put an End to Needless DistractionTM. This system is the perfect solution for me – it helps me clean my desk each night while also ensuring that I follow-up on phone calls, emails and projects. Here’s how it works:


  • Gather 32 hanging folders and clean out an easily accessible file drawer
  • Gather 32 manila folders and write 1 – 32 on each folder consecutively
  • Place each folder in a hanging folder in numerical order in the drawer

Then start placing any item requiring action on a later date in the appropriate folder. For example:

  • Future meeting information (agendas, notes from past meetings requiring follow-up, etc.)
  • Copies of emails or letters that require future action or follow-up
  • Registration information for seminars or other events, along with directions and other information
  • Travel information including flight confirmations, hotel reservations, etc.
  • Anything tangible that is not yet ready for handling

Place items that won’t be needed until the next month in the folder marked 32 so you can move it forward to its correct day at the end of the month. Each morning I pull out the file for the day’s date and sort what’s in there by priority. At the end of the day, anything that I didn’t get to is placed in the next day’s file.

This system has proven incredibly helpful for me as I work on a wide variety of projects. For example, when I schedule an interview with a potential job candidate for my firm, I place their resume in the file for the date of the interview. Or as President-Elect of the Professional Women’s Club of Chicago, I file the previous month’s agenda a week before the next board meeting to remind me to begin preparing for it.

If you’re worried that you’ll forget to check your file, set up a reminder on your calendar each morning so that you’ll know to at least take a look. Once you start using the system regularly, you’ll find that it’s the first place you look when you get into the office each morning. I promise, it works! Not only do I feel more in control of my work space, but it has made me much better at follow-up and follow-through – two key traits for every successful Career Girl!


About the Author

Kelley Long

Kelley Long is a CPA/PFS and CFP® who believes that the true meaning of financial security means having choices in life. She uses her 15 years of experience in various financial services industry jobs to inform her work as a Resident Financial Planner for Financial Finesse, providing unbiased financial guidance through workplace financial wellness programs. She’s also a volunteer and media ambassador for Feed the Pig and 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy. In Kelley’s perfect world, everyone would feel great talking about their money concerns, fears, questions and problems, because then everyone would see that we ALL have those concerns, fears, questions and problems. Kelley lives in Chicago with her husband and their Himalayan cat Miles, where she also teaches BODYPUMP group fitness classes at the Chicago Athletic Clubs.