I try not to look behind my desk. It is one very scary place. There’s a rat’s nest of cables back there that grows more snarled and intertwined by the month. Every new device I add to my setup seems to add at least two, sometimes three more cables, and I have a bank of powerboards bristling with plugs and leads.

I’ve tried to clean it up; to disentangle the phone wires from the cable from the Ethernet from the power cords from the USB and speaker connectors. It’s hopeless. None of the ties or straps or other “cable management systems” I’ve used have worked for me.

KableflagsI could simply avoid the back of my desk and let the cables be. But I’ve found that that doesn’t work, because whenever I have to disconnect a device I’m confronted with an array of power cords leading into that dark tangle. It’s even worse when I have to unplug more than one device at a time – the modem and router, for instance. I have to tuck the power leads under something weighty and stick Ethernet cables under my arms to ensure I don’t drop a lead into the mass below.

I tried attaching fluorescent mailing labels to the ends of each lead, identifying its purpose, but after a few weeks I’d find those labels sitting scrunched on the floor, nowhere near their host cable.

Then, on my last visit home to Australia, I came across Kableflags in a store. An insanely simple idea, Kableflags are packs of plastic tags which cinch securely around cables, with a label identifying the purpose of the cable. You can buy Kableflags with pre-written tags for your computer, home theatre, entertainment centre, workshop tools and kitchen; or you can buy packs of 10 blank tags which you can write on with a ballpoint pen. I find the blank tags the most useful, because my computer setup in no way matches the pre-written assortment. I started off with four packs, bought another 10 and have just ordered another 10 to give to friends in need.

Since attaching the Kableflags, I have no problems with disconnecting the wrong plug (turning off my computer when I meant to unplug the monitor, for instance) and don’t cringe when I drop a lead into the mass of cables. It’s now an easy job to fish it out and reconnect it where it belongs. It really is surprising how much easier such a simple thing can make life.

You can buy Kableflags in Australia in office supply stores. In the US, I get mine from from Amazon and a Google search will turn up other suppliers. From Amazon, they cost around $5.50 per pack.

When you order Kableflags, keep in mind that you’ll probably want to label each end of many of your cables and that some devices use multiple cables (power cord, USB cable and so on). If your cable tangle is anything like mine, you’ll be back for more.