Essential Office Supplies for Productivity (Step 1 of 12)


Why You Need the RIGHT Supplies?

Anyone that is good at their job uses the right tools to do their jobs well. If you want to improve your productivity you need to make sure you have the right tools and supplies to help you become the most productive person possible. Luckily you already have most of the tools you need! In fact, I would say most people have TOO many things they do not need on their desk. An optimal workspace will be clean, uncluttered, and ONLY contains the necessary items for you to become productive and complete your most important tasks. 

Are More Supplies Better?

I would argue the general answer would be, No. Having more tools and supplies at your workspace is actually a distraction. Anything in excess should be removed from your workspace. The supplies listed below should allow you to handle almost anything that comes across your office space. 

Do You You Need All the Listed Supplies?

Short answer is, YES. If you truly want to be productive I would encourage you to have the items listed in the “Absolutely Necessary Items” list below. You will likely have most of the items on the list so you will not need to obtain many more items. In fact you will likely be getting rid of some of your current items!

 I searched for over 20 hours on Amazon for the best products that are reasonably priced. I created a list below with Amazon links to options for items that I would recommend. In addition, I have personally used almost all of the items listed. 

**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


Sample of creating a work space using just the items recommended from the list below!

The work space depicted in this post will feature the most fundamental workspace that should work for most medical students and resident physicians. However if you are a seasoned attending and have a lot of books or physical files that have accumulated over time, you may need more bookcases, larger desk, or multiple cabinets. I would suggest though, that you trim down on on all physical items that you do not need in your workspace as you go through this process. See if you can only keep in your workspace what you truly need and things that actually help your productivity, not hinder it. 

I also refer to the actual items that I currently use in this post as well in case readers are interested. 



A Table or Desk

This is the foundation of your workspace. Pick a table or desk that is a comfortable height. For students or those on a budget, I used a Lifetime table throughout college, medical school, and first year of residency. They are cheap, durable, and easily transferred. Until you have settled into a permanent place, I would recommend finding something with a comfortable height for you and enough space for a laptop and writing area. That’s all the space you truly need. More space is not always better because it can cause distractions. 

Since I have settled in a home long-term, I personally use an electric sitting/standing desk that allows me to adjust precisely the height for sitting or standing. I absolutely love it and it is so nice to be able to switch between sitting and standing. I went reviewed a lot of electric desks before settling on this one. This one is a great price for $399 and I have had NO problems with it since it’s purchase. Would definitely buy it again!
Here is a link to it. If you do click on that link you should receive a discount or credit for the electric desk. 



SmartDesk 2 – Business Edition by that I personally use

Comfortable Chair

It is advisable that you invest in a chair that is comfortable. You may be sitting for long amounts of time so find something that is comfortable for your back and your body. I used a fold up chair for years during college and medical school. I would recommend a decent office chair with back support. 

I use the ErgoChair 2 by I think of it as a long-term investment to my body since I do spend a lot of time sitting. The chair is fully adjustable and has great back support. I would not recommend for people shorter than 5’6” since the neck support is quite high. 



ErgoChair 2 by that I personally use

Physical Inbox Tray System

This is one of the most important parts of having a productivity system is to have a tray where incoming physical things can be placed prior to processing. Trays are often used ineffectively as placeholders for most people but I will go over how to use them in an upcoming post to effectively make your life easier. 

I used the plastic paper tray organizer for years and they work great. However I have transitioned over to metal mesh organizers that look more professional and are more sturdy. I put a link to both a silver and black version of the ones that I personally use.  The links below contain 4-6 trays. Use the spare ones for other work space areas or donate to a friend!

Metal File Organizer – For “BOOMERANG” File (IMPORTANT)

A “Boomerang” File is a way for you to “mail” physical items back to your future self. In Getting Things Done, David Allen calls it the Tickler File. It has also been called the 43 Folder System by Merlin Mann. I like to call it a “Boomerang” File since you are basically sending something back to yourself on a specific date. This is extremely useful for date specific items such as concert tickets, hotel reservations, conference agendas, etc. This is probably one of the most underutilized productivity habits that people don’t know about. Please see this video I created on exactly how to create a Boomerang Filing System. I’ve gone through many different items and have found that these metal file organizers listed below are the absolute perfect size to house the 43 folders and create a Boomerang Filing System (watch below or click here to see video on Boomerang File System). 


Invest in 1-2  bookcases (or more if you need) for books that you truly care about and have made a difference in your life. You likely already have one but if not check out the links below. If you only have a few books a smaller book shelf may suffice. If you need portability with functionality a folding bookshelf maybe for you. If you have a permanent office or workspace then a more stationary bookshelf may be best (this is the type I use). 

Filing Cabinet, Bankers Boxes, File Folders, and File Guides

A cabinet is actually optional but is highly recommended. This is where you will keep all of your physical items that need to be sorted away. Many filing cabinets allow you to use hanging files. I have tried this approach but personally have found that they are cumbersome and hard to file. I place all of my physical files in Pendaflex File Folders and then organize them inside my cabinets. 

If on a budget or you need portability, you can also use Bankers Boxes to organize your physical files instead of cabinets. Most people will need at least one Cabinet/Bankers Box for their physical documents (I only have one since almost all of my documents are now digitally stored). File Guides are A-Z guides that will help you organize your files. You will also need a separate set of A-Z Filing Guides for each filing system that you intend to use. For myself I have one cabinet for my personal files and and used to have one cabinet for my journal articles before I went fully digital with my journal articles. 


Printer and Scanner

It is necessary to have a decent printer. I have used an all-in-one printer that can print, scan, and fax. I since have bought an incredible scanner and don’t need that function on my printer anymore. I also rarely ever use fax. If I really need to fax something I can also do it at my office at work. For the home office I would recommend a simple printer and invest in a great scanner. 

The Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner is one of the best double sided scanners on the market and allowed me to pretty much go to a fully digital organizational system. I was able to scan a 300 page text book in less than 15 minutes! Now, I barely have any more physical documents. I know that spending a few hundred dollars on a scanner seems crazy but it will make your organizational life so much easier, especially if you want to go fully digital. If on a budget then I would recommend the all-in-one printer, scanner, fax machine. 



All-in-one Printer Compact Printer


Decent Scanner Excellent Scanner


Please don’t underestimate the power of the Labeler. It will be absolutely necessary to have a labeler to label your folders appropriately and to label items. A labeler will allow you to feel more organized and makes your workspace look professional. I personally have 3 labelers (one for my general household, one for my home office, and one at my work office). 



Labeler Labeler Tape

Trash Bin

This is basic but you will need a trash bin handy for your workspace. I like the mesh trash bin since it matches the other organizational tools I have. Also most people will need lots of trash bags. You will be surprised how much stuff you will be getting rid of soon (or donating). 



Trash Bin Trash Bags

Desk Organizer and Lamp

Having a desk organizer is crucial to being efficient at your work space. I like this specific mesh organizer because it allows you to hold just the right amount of stationary items. It is the actual desk organizer I use and have recommended to many others. 

It is also important to have good lighting. I personally like the OttLite because the bulb reduces eye strain and is energy efficient. I have had my OttLite for over 10 years and still have not replaced the bulb! An added bonus is that the OttLite is super light and portable. 



Desk Organizer Desk Lamp

Paper Shredder

Being in the health care profession, may people may accidentally take pieces of paper home with protected health information. In addition you probably have many items that have your personal information (mail, SSN, address, phone number, email) that you would not want people to have access to.

Most people I know who do not have a paper shredder will allow such items to clutter their desk and workspace because they have nowhere to put it and they can’t throw it away in the trash. Having a paper shredder at your workspace will allow you to clear your environment of unnecessary items quickly and allow you to not worry about sensitive items.

I personally use a Fellowes Powershred machine that can cut 16 sheets of paper at a time (it has lasted me over 10 years!). This should be good enough for most people. An 8-sheet paper shredder works as well if you are on a budget.

Once we start to the step of purging your documents you will be very glad you have a good paper shredder!




Stationary Items

The below list are the items I personally have available at hand on my physical workspace. These include one of each of the following: blue pen, black pen, pencil, highlighter, Post-it Notes, notepad, stapler, stapler remover, pair of scissors, letter opener and paper clips. 

The items on there that some people may not have are the letter opener and the stapler remover. The letter opener is only $5 but will make opening mail so much more efficient. Just be careful because they are sharp. If you have kids then consider the safer version of the letter opener (see video below). My wife introduced me to a professional staple remover (also $5) and it is amazing how neatly and easily it removes staples! Those are definitely two items I recommend getting that many people underutilize. 

If you have more items than this,  consider if you really need them to do productive work. Or are they serving more as a distraction and preventing you from being productive. I’ve helped form the physical workspace for many people and seldom do we need to add anything to the physical workspace beyond what I recommend below. 




Only Stationery Items Needed for Physical Workspace!


Blue Pens Black Pens


Pencils Highlighters


Post-it Notes Notepads


Stapler Stapler Remover


Scissors Paper Clips


Letter Opener Letter Opener (Safer)

Optional Items

The following items are optional but nice to have depending on your situation. 

Organizing Cables and Cords

If you have many cable that are lying all over your workspace and house, I would suggest buying the following storage containers to help organize them. 


I love using this smaller sized storage container for organizing all of my extra USB cables, headphones, and adapters. You can customize the size of the compartments.  I use either rubber bands or zip ties to wrap the cables and cords. 

For longer cables such as HDMI cables, VGA cables, AV supplies I use a larger storage container. Once again you have full customization of what size you want for the compartments. This container is approximately twice the height of the smaller version show above.




Zip Ties Rubber Bands


Whiteboards are great for brain storming and coming up with new ideas. 



White Board Marker and Eraser
Marker and Eraser”>

Final Thoughts

I hope you found this post useful. This list was formed after years of trying to improve my productivity at my physical workspace and trying out many items. I attempted my best to take out items that I do not need or use from my workspace and only keep the things that would improve my productivity. 

Please do not worry about forming your workspace with these items at this time. Just make sure you have all of the “absolutely necessary” items available. In the following posts (Step 3) I will discuss in detail how to form an amazing workspace with these basic items and precisely how each item fits into a productivity system. Here is also a post on an overview of all 12 Steps!

Please consider subscribing to our newsletter below to get updates on upcoming posts on productivity!

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dr. McFrugal
4 years ago

Love this! And I like the two books I see on the top shelf, which are definitely essential 😉

Zen Productivity
4 years ago

Yes you noticed those books 🙂 Super essentials 🙂


[…] 1. Gather the Essential Supplies for a Productive Physical Workspace […]


[…] Time needed: Approximately 0.5 to 1 full dayMaterials 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.  […]


[…] Time needed: Approximately 0.5 to 1 full dayMaterials 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.  […]


[…] Time needed: 3-4 hours (possibly more if you have many things to organize)Materials needed: A-Z filing Guides, Bookshelf, label maker, Pendeflex Folders, Filing Cabinet or Banker’s Boxes. For a list of recommended supplies for productivity please see the STEP 1 blog post on getting supplies.  […]


[…] Step 1 tells you the exact Supplies needed to be productiveStep 2 shows you how to Declutter and Purge your current physical workspaceStep 3 helps you Create an optimal physical workspaceStep 4 shows you how to Organize your Physical Files […]


[…] Time needed: Approximately 1 hourMaterials needed: Just your mind, a pen or pencil, and a notepad. For a list of recommended supplies for productivity please see the STEP 1 blog post on getting supplies.  […]


[…] This video goes through exactly what supplies you will need to create a productive workspace (Step 1 of 12). To read my full blog post going over exact supplies (and links to them): CLICK HERE. […]

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get notified about new post