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I need to keep all the cables in and around my desk tidy for two reasons. Firstly: I hate cables. In a world of mobile phones, wireless Internet and Bluetooth keyboards and mice, cables suddenly seem clumsy, restrictive and ugly. A disorganised excess of them often results in one’s place of work looking more like a snake pit scene from Indiana Jones than somewhere where productivity and creativity prevails.

Secondly: having timeout from technology throughout the day is of the upmost importance. Take it from someone who has been to many a chiropractor, massage therapist, and nearly a psychologist after having basically a mental breakdown from a highly stressful agency job (chained to my desk like one of those ballpoint pens at the bank) … taking some time and having a break from your computer or device on a regular basis is so, so important for your mental and physical health—plus it will also refresh the mind and help you concentrate on your work much better. So please, take the time each day to do so! Anyway, back to cables …

Obviously, there will always be things on your desk that need to be connected to power or to each other—my iMac for example needs power and feeds a second screen and peripherals—so I thought I would share how I’ve organised my work space to give the cables a very low profile, making my desk free from clutter while retaining all the functionality and connectivity of a useful Mac setup. I don’t claim to be the Desktop Dalai Lama … this isn’t the be-all and end-all of desk layout … just simply sharing with you fine folk how I’ve organised myself.

I’m a professional graphic designer working in marketing communications, so for me the heart and soul of the setup is a top-of-the-range 27″ i7 quad-core iMac, with a second 22″ screen served on the side. Plus and a few other bits and bobs plugged in including a full sized keyboard, an ethernet cable, a couple of backup hard drives and a Wacom tablet.

Now, the task of managing cables. My choices of arsenal include a roll of trimmable velcro tape, a collection of table grommets and a packet of nail-secured cable clips. The forth photo above shows some other clips and brackets I’ve used for other projects at home, with the screwable loop being useful for audio visual cables and the black ‘grippy thing’ good for keeping runs of cables together. The white one pictured on the other hand I’ve found to be pretty crap, with the self-adhesive deteriorating very quickly and then coming unstuck … so I’d steer clear of them except for very light duty work.

Desk grommets are extremely useful for managing and routing cables to where you need them to go. The key though is not being a sugar-dusted pansy-slice when it comes to drilling holes in your desk. Grommets are only useful when they are located where they need to be. Many desks come with one pre-installed in the far corner of the desk, but this particular desk I’m using now had none, so I had free reign of where they went. I bought some grommets from a local furniture wholesaler, but you can get them from places like Bunnings or Officeworks … though they tend to be cheaper and lower quality. Then, think carefully about how you are going to lay everything out before you open a can of whoopass with the hole saw. For instance, the grommet behind the iMac I deliberately drilled below where most of the cables exit the Mac (close to the back of the machine and off-set to the right rather than being centred and further back). The other two grommets I decided would work better on the sides of the desk rather than on the desktop itself. One of the side grommets takes the cables for the second screen, power cable for the desk lamp, and also the cable from a six point powerboard that I have screwed under the lip of the desk to easily charge iPads, camera batteries, etc. without digging around under the desk. The switch for the desk lamp is attached with some well massaged bluetac, and a few strips of the self sticking velcro tapes keep all the cables neat.

The second grommet is on the other side of the desk which feeds cables for the Wacom tablet, USB ‘golf ball’ hub and my coffee cup hotplate. The ‘golf ball’ USB hub is weighted, so sits on the desk without falling under the weight of the cable and makes a very convenient spot to plug in my Time Machine portable hard drive that I take home with me every night. The cable for the Wacom tablet hangs in a little metal bracket I found in my toolkit at home, so it sits out of the way when the tablet is not in use with the excess cable feeding back through the grommet and down the inside edge of the desk. When I need to use the Wacom, I simply pull the end of the cable to extend it over to the working area.

And yes, I take my coffee very seriously. And yes, the coffee cup hotplate on my desk burns away on 240 magnificent caffeine-simmering volts. And yes, it still amuses me how many of my co-workers still aren’t convinced that it gets extremely hot … and proceed to test their theory by touching their hand on it. All Nobel Prize nominees.

Under the desk, I started by screwing the powerboard in place, then used the nailed cord clips to run all the power cables. After that I ran all the other cables, simply velcro taping them to the power cables that were already attached to the desk. I could have used zip-ties or similar clips or clamps, however I’ve found over the years that, more often than not, I will at some point want to change, move, replace or modify my setup somehow, and the velcro allows cables to be changed and rerouted without any fuss or wastage.

At one side of the desk near the wall, I just made a powerplug sized hole to run the power cable and ethernet cable to the inside of the desk. All cables are kept neat once again with the velcro tape strips.

So, what is the result? See for yourself …

Sitting at the computer provides an uncluttered workspace, and although you can still see glimpses of cables here and there, they are neat and out of the way. On the side, the coffee heater’s cable is right out of the way, and there’s easy access to plug and unplug the backup hard drive (plus its location is conspicuous enough that I remember to take it home each night!).

The cable for the Wacom tablet is neatly out of the way when the tablet is in the cupboard, but sitting ready for action when a serious Photoshopping session is getting underway.

And finally, for those of you playing along at home, you might have noticed that I’ve magically got a ‘wireless’ full sized Apple keyboard. Basically, I can’t do without the additional function keys and numeral pad for doing intensive design and editing work, so the shorter wireless keyboard wasn’t an option. However the cable that runs from the keyboard to the Mac completely ruins everything—like finding a pubic hair on your freshly delivered Italian pizza—so once again I cracked out the drill. Just a small ‘USB plug sized’ hole, then after feeding the cable through under the desk, I cut a slot into a spare plastic plug I had left over from when I put my office chair together, and viola! A full size ‘wireless’ keyboard.

So I hope my little setup story has given you some inspiration for your own setup at work or home. I’m also constantly tinkering and improving my setup, so if you guys have your own ideas and solutions, I’d love to hear about them!

I know that I work much better and can think more clearly without cables and clutter around me. So if you’re in the same boat and suffering from a cable plague, it might be worth spending that little extra effort to firstly plan your attack and then get your cords and cables sorted once and for all!

Ben Johnston

A core belief of mine is that working with clients on their brand identity should be fun, challenging and meaningful. I work with business owners to realise their own passion and vision for the future—seeing their consequential success is a testament to the power of brand identity.  

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