Briefcase Organization 101

By Julie Morgenstern


A briefcase or tote is so much more than a convenient way to carry our daily essentials, a briefcase symbolizes our age-old desire to contain and control our lives. A well-organized bag holds forth the promise of the ultimate in preparedness and professionalism. With everything you need (and no more!), you feel confident, polished, and ready for anything.

Yet getting to that ideal state is elusive for so many. Dina’s cluttered work tote makes her cringe with embarrassment every time she walks into a client meeting. Lennie’s briefcase is so overstuffed he has to dig deep to find a working pen, and his chiropractor warned him it’s time to lighten up.

Here’s how to clean out your briefcase, once and for all, and create a reliable system that has only what you need to inspire confidence in you and your clients.


STEP ONE: Identify the Essentials

Ask yourself, “What do I actually use in my work bag?” Be brutally honest! Remember the 80-20 rule:  most people only use about 20% of everything they own. Consider the following common items:

  • Go-to-Essentials: These live permanently in your bag and are used regularly. Factor in personal items, i.e. wallet, keys, cell phone, reading glasses, sun glasses, along with your laptop. For supplies, go light and choose high-quality basics you’d be proud to take out of your bag at a meeting.  Consider one or two high quality pencils, an elegant notebook, and visually organized planner.
  • Transient Materials: These are items you’re transporting just for the moment.  Reading material, work files (hint: try toting in clear plastic folders), and even your gym clothes.


STEP TWO: Decide What Type of Bag You Need

Once you know what you truly need space for, you can choose a bag that meets your actual work needs. Consider characteristics in a bag you like best: style (backpack, messenger, shoulder bag, tiny bag with handles), weight, and number of compartments. Do you prefer lots of little compartments, or a few larger general areas throughout the bag?


Here are a few great bags that fit a variety of needs:

  • Lightweight Business Tote — fits a ton, and is light when empty so the only weight you are carrying is in the contents.
  • Elements Classic Briefbag — adds a touch of elegance and makes a statement, while being deceptively light and roomy.
  • Binder Caddies — allows you to tote heavy binders and exhibits to a courthouse, conference room, or company audit without straining your back.


STEP THREE: Arrange the Bag

Organize your bag into zones, assigning each category of items its own section. For example:

  • Communication (cell phone, pen, business cards) in an easily accessible pocket.
  • Technology (computer, tablet, power cords) in a one inner compartment.
  • Meeting Materials (notebook, planner, writing implements) in another.
  • Transient Projects (bills to pay, reading, work to do) in their own, distinct section to provide a quick visual picture of work you need to do.


Commit to a daily routine of unpacking and resetting your bag each night. Taking the time to clean out your bag regularly will keep you feeling grounded, light on your feet and prepared to meet your daily adventures.

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