Create the perfect workspace

Creating the Perfect Physical Workspace That Boosts Productivity (Step 3 of 12)

“Unnecessary Items = Distractions = Decreased Productivity”

How we set up the physical workspace is often neglected. If you completed the previous step (Step 2), then you experienced how easily things can accumulate in your environment without realizing it. We often feel obligated to keep things we don’t need or guilty about throwing things away that don’t mean much to us anymore. 

After experiencing a total declutter of your physical environment in Step 2, I hope going forward, that you think extremely hard before adding anything into your workspace!

After Step 2, you must be feeling pretty good that all of that clutter is out of your workspace. However, the primary purpose of a physical workspace is not to look nice or uncluttered, its true purpose is to elevate your productivity to new levels. You can have an amazing looking workspace but that does not mean it is functional. Being uncluttered is only a byproduct of your workspace being Functional

What You Will Need:

Time needed: Approximately 0.5 to 1 full day
Materials needed: Trash bin, lots of Trash Bags, Paper Shredder, Pen, Post-it Notes. For a list of recommended supplies for productivity please see the STEP 1 blog post on getting supplies. 

**Physician Zen is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, we may earn a small affiliate commission with no additional charges to you. Learn more

General Rules for the Physical Workspace

Here are some general rules regarding the physical workspace:

  • Every item in the workspace serves a purpose
  • Have only one of each necessary item.
  • Should be maintained and decluttered daily.
  • Does not contain any distracting items
  • Allows you to quickly sort, purge, and organize any incoming items
  • Have materials that make you feel comfortable and good doing work. 
  • Isolated space to minimize interruptions

Set up your Desk, Chair, Bookshelf, and Cabinet

The first thing is to find the optimal spot for your physical workspace that is isolated and preferably with some good natural lighting. The desk, bookshelf, and cabinet will set up the framework for your productivity system. First set up your desk and place the bookshelf and cabinet next to your desk. This will help you get any books from your bookshelf and documents from your cabinet within seconds of needing a reference. Finally, place your chair at your desk.

Setting up Stationery Items

Now let’s place the necessary stationery items in your workspace. I would highly recommend a desk organizer. Here is a link to the desk organizer I use, I think it is the perfect size and accommodates the perfect amount of stationery items I have. 

Inside your desk organizer I would recommend you have only ONE of each of the following:

  • 1 Black Pen
  • 1 Blue Pen
  • 1 Pencil
  • 1 Highlighter
  • 1 Stapler
  • 1 Pair of Scissors
  • 1 Notepad
  • 1 Post-it 
  • 1 Stapler remover
  • 1 Letter Opener
  • A few Paper Clips and Rubber Bands (you can have more than one of these)

Boomerang Filing System (AKA Tickler File and 43 Folders)

The Boomerang Filing system is a way to send yourself physical items on a specific date. See this video on how to make a Boomerang Filing system. It is also known as the 43 Folders system by Merlin Mann, and the Tickler File by David Allen. I like to call it the Boomerang Filing system because I’m basically sending something back to myself at a future date. 

I suggest placing your Boomerang Filing system on your bookshelf for easy access. You can use it for multiple things such as placing things that need actions on a specific date. 

2-Tray System, Pending Review and Need Action Trays

The core of a productivity system is how it handles incoming materials. The 2-tray system looks so insignificant, yet it is truly the underlying feature that makes the entire productivity system work. Here is a link to the tray that I personally use and recommend.

The top tray I think of as the “Pending Review” tray where any incoming materials that will need some type of quick processing (2 minutes or less) such as sorting, filling out a form, or things that need to be scanned into the computer. The bottom tray is for things that “Need Actions” that require more than 2 minutes, such as reading a journal article, filling out an application, etc. 

The “Pending Review” Tray for most people includes stacks of documents that have not been sorted or filed. Do you have multiple unsorted personal documents, work lists, financial documents, etc that are just sitting around in your office that have not been dealt with? These are things that would all go on your top “Pending Review” tray. 

In order to have a sustainable productivity system, you will need to clear the “Pending Review” tray every day. That way there are only a few items a day you will need to deal with, and it will be very manageable. If you wait a few days, weeks, or months you will likely feel too overwhelmed to deal with everything in that tray. I can’t emphasize the importance of clearing this tray every day to keep you stress free and more productive. 

The “Need Action” tray should also be cleared each day. An item should only go in the “Need Action” tray if you intend on completing the action for that item that day. If not, then put it in your Boomerang Filing system to send back to you on a day you can do the action for that item. 

Trash Bin and Shredder

I personally place the trash bin underneath my desk so I can immediately throw any trash away. You definitely do not want any trash cluttering your workspace. Having an easy way to dispose of things immediately will reduce the chances that you clutter your workspace. 

I place the shredder right next to my desk and immediately shred items when needed. This also eliminates the chance that these items accumulate on your workspace unnecessarily. 

These are extremely simple suggestions, but anything you can do to make immediate decluttering easier for you will improve your productivity. We have so many items that come into our environment every day that having process to deal with them will make you more efficient. 


One of the BEST purchases I have ever made towards investing into my productivity system has been a great scanner (link to my recommended scanner). Yes, they are not cheap, however, if you don’t want physical clutter affecting your productivity, you ABSOLUTELY need a scanner. I have pretty much gone away from a physical filing system and converted to a digital filing system using a scanner. It has made my life immensely better. 

My scanner is physically located on my desk right above my trash can and shredder. With JUST those three items I am able to process any physical document that comes in to my physical environment within seconds.  

If you don’t have many documents to scan, then you can actually just do it for free with your phone! Here is a video I made that shows you how to use the iPhone as a free document scanner!

Physical A-Z filing System

I have one banker’s box of physical A-Z filing system for some legal documents that I can’t shred. These can include things such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, deeds, etc. My total physical documents take up less than ¼ of a banker’s box. We will discuss exactly how to set this up in the next post. You can also place your A-Z filing system in a cabinet. 

We will organize all of your residual items in your “Possibly Keep” from Step 2 using the A-Z filing system in the next step (Step 4). 

Sit Down and See How it Feels

After you have set up your physical workspace, have a seat! This simple system will elevate your productivity to new levels. Imagine any physical items coming in and how you would deal with it using this optimized physical workspace!

After this step you will have created a framework for processing ANY physical items. In the next step we will discuss how to organize your physical items that were left in your “Possibly Keep” pile from Step 2 into your new Optimized Physical PRODUCTIVE Workspace!

I hope you enjoyed this post! Click here for an overview of all 12-steps to help you achieve a productive life.

Please sign up for our newsletter below if you would like to receive updates as each step comes out! Once again, I look forward to being part of your productive and stress-free life.

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