Career specialists are fond of asking what our desks say about us. The answer is not “everything,” but “lots.” Even the most modular, bland work space tends to succumb to the tastes or personality of its inhabitant. How can it not? The average office worker spends nearly six hours a day sitting at a desk, adapting it to his or her own organizational needs and desires.
We take a close look at how successful people organize their work spaces — in their very own ways. Their answers have been edited and condensed.
Fried, 34, is the founder and engineer of Adafruit Industries, New York. Adafruit supplies do-it-yourself technology kits, electronics and educational materials.
Office footwear: I keep a pair of sandals underneath the desk. It can get hot in the office and if I come to work in boots, my feet can get quite warm.
Her location in the office: There are no walls in this office. (Well, the bathroom has walls.) I sit in a corner. I can see this corner and part of the production area. I like where I am now. People can just come up to me and ask questions or talk, and they do all the time. If you are the founder or the CEO of a company, you need to be in the mix.
Computer: My monitor is a used Apple monitor that's OK but has some dirty spots on it. The keyboard is a Dell QuietKey. I love them.
I have to buy them on eBay now, because they don't make them anymore.
Favorite object: My oscilloscope. You use it to measure electronic signals. It's a tool that has to be accurate, so I have a much better oscilloscope than computer. That said, I have one that's just OK. I need to have my oscilloscope wires wound up nicely, which I make sure to do every night.
Frequently used item: I have this pair of calipers I am always reaching for. I love them.
Privacy tool: Because we don't have walls, it can get quite loud around here. So I have a great pair of headphones I can put on and block everything out. I also play music sometimes.
Light source: I have a great Luxo lamp. I love it. I got it out of a Dumpster, and it is just a great lamp. I have had it for 16 years, and it is perfect. I might have had to fix it a little. I don't remember. They really don't make lamps like that anymore.
Don't call: I don't have a telephone or a cellphone. There's nothing to call me about. I did design a cellphone jammer once, but I don't use a phone myself. I find it really helpful to me not to receive calls, but I will answer email right away.
Favorite organizational tool: I love these clear plastic bins that we have. They have tops you can snap closed, and everything around here is stored in them. That's great because I like to be able to see what's in the box.
Booth, 66, is chairman and co-CEO of Dimensional Fund Advisors, in Austin, Texas. DFA is a mutual fund company.
Top of the desk: I'm messy because I like to keep everything I am working on in front of me. I keep the papers scattered on my desk for easy access and to remind me of what I am working on.
What's in the drawers: Not papers. All my files, to the extent they are filed, are with my assistant. I use my drawers for keeping emergency supplies. I keep a couple of ties in there. I don't normally wear one, and if I have a meeting where I need one, I've got it. I keep snack food and all the electric plugs I need to travel abroad. I have a drawer for foreign currency.
Chair: It's supposedly ergonomically designed. For about a year I sat on one of those exercise balls. Then my lower back started hurting, so I had to go back to a chair.
Favorite thing: My desk. I had it designed for me. It is kind of a cockpit. It curves around me and has a lot of surface area. I can work on the computer, or I can do writing on paper. I can fiddle around with a few equations. I can kind of rotate around and do everything I need to do without getting up.
Artwork: My wife, Suzanne Deal Booth, is interested in developing an art collection for the firm. I like having the art in my office. It makes me look clever. The works in my office are by Frederick Hammersley. They are generated by a dot-matrix printer. My wife thought that it was pleasing to look at, and it connotes dimensionality, because of our name, Dimensional. She also thought that it being computer-generated was reflective of me somehow.
Mementos: We now have nine offices, and seven of them are outside the U.S. I visit them and always try to get knickknacks from various places. For example, the green globe behind my desk — that came from Beijing. It's called something like a Happy Ball. It's one of those things you see everywhere in China, and when you've been there for a week, you have to have one.
Left-hander: I am picky about things in my office, because I am left-handed. Certain pens work better than others for me. I have my phone on my left, but I keep my mouse on my right hand. There are things you can't control — like the phone cord, which is somewhat in the wrong place for me.