Five ways to set up your desk for productivity

No need for pricey equipment, says the founder of iSetups—just focus on these key details

WeWork 18 West 18th Street in New York. Photograph by WeWork

As founder and content creator at Feature Media and iSetups, I’ve spent the past three years building the iSetups Instagram page. Every week, thousands of minimalist desk setups wash onto the shores of my emails and DMs. I curate these and post them on iSetups, which showcases workplace setups from around the world. And while you might think you need to be some sort of amazing designer or have the nicest computer to have a great desk setup, one thing I’ve learned is that the only thing that matters in a great setup is focus. 

These are the five setup details that will make or break a minimalist desk.

1. Cable management 

The most obvious sign between a professional desk setup and an amateur one is cable management. When setting up a desk, you should pay attention to everything from power and input cables to the wiring inside a custom PC.

But cable management doesn’t just mean making sure your cables aren’t visible. If you make your cables hard to reach, your actual setup productivity will wane dramatically. You also need to make sure you can easily access your cables. 

Putting together your ideal setup is about finding a compromise between form and function. A great setup is both productive and elegant. I like to organize cables by common functions, dividing by power cables, input cables, etc. If I need to swap a device on my desk, I know I won’t unplug everything else, and it makes it easy to follow each individual device’s cables.

This setup from @drift_dev is a perfect example. If you look closely, you can see that he has a black box on the bottom of his desk that he can use to store cables. This is a great example of a setup with easily accessible cables, paired with very thorough cable management.

2. Storage

If you’re a professional creative, you probably have dozens of small gadgets that are critical. Drone pilots need somewhere to keep their drones, batteries, chargers, and remotes. Video editors may need to have a color-correction board nearby. 

One of the most underrated and critical facets of a great setup is how well you can store the items you need regularly but not daily.

Consider how you can use storage to house conversation-starters in your setup. Some of my favorite desk setups, like this one from @naisudayo, integrate storage as a point of decoration or even a point of support for your desk. 

Notice how this setup places decorative plants and toys alongside essential plastic gadgets and gear.

3. Color

We see black-and-white setups a lot at iSetups, and for good reason: It works!

Monochromatic setups give you some leeway to integrate almost any piece of color into your desk.

This setup from @louiecastro is a stellar example. The desk and monitor are dark wood with black accents. Even though he complements those back accents with his matte-white keyboard, Castro knows the centerpieces of this setup are his colorful pieces of art, not his desk.

It’s OK if you don’t want your desk to be the center of attention. Downplaying your primary colors so you can drive your eyes to art or interior design is a great way to create some intrigue.

There are other setups that thrive on color. This setup from @maisyleigh uses its desktop image, plants, and warm lighting to make multiple colorful accents pop.

Your dominant color doesn’t have to be bright or pervasive, just apparent. Notice how even though the pastel pink is the dominant color of the setup, most things are still a simple white.

4. Clever tools

Consider the most common things you do at a desk:

  • Charging your phone
  • Importing files onto a computer
  • Taking meetings

Think about how you can add tools like ring lights, swiveling microphones, desk lamps, well-placed external webcams, a wireless charging puck, or a USB port extender. 

This setup from @thericebucket places their USB extension at the front of their setup, allowing them to seamlessly import files without worrying about removing cable management.

On a similar note, this setup from @teslimalabi_ puts a ring light and microphone front and center, to reduce their friction when being creative, and this setup from @valezrina allows them to pivot their lights whenever they need.

5. Displays

When I was young, with dreams of being a tech YouTuber, I thought that having three or four displays was critical to my setup’s success. I was wrong. 

In a world of overstimulation, I’ve learned that having multiple monitors is not a universal requirement for a great desk setup. Having a multitude of monitors is a challenge that isn’t fruitful for most. 

It’s OK to keep things simple. Some of my favorite setups over the years have had one simple monitor and some budget-friendly speakers. 

This setup from @taylorhoff only uses one monitor per computer but allows space to fill their wall with art, memorabilia, and their guitar. 

One way to stay productive and avoid running two separate monitors is to use an ultrawide monitor. We have an entire section for browsing ultrawide monitor setups on our iSetups Instagram page. 

One of my favorites is this one from @nicholasrechichi, who put their monitor on a swivel-mount to have extra versatility.

Ultimately, desk setups are a reflection of who you are. Having a great setup isn’t about spending a boatload of money or having a super-creative idea. It’s about finding a way to bring attention and focus to the parts of your setup that bring you joy throughout your day.

Justin Tse is a 25-year-old online content creator, entrepreneur, and student. He was born and raised on the small island of Victoria, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. Tse has a passion for work, travel, sports, streetwear, visual media, and connecting with like-minded ambitious individuals. He’s also the world’s biggest F1 racing fan.

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