“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the virtues of having a tidy work space. Some say that if you work in clutter, your output is likely to be equally as disorganised. Others say that messiness is a sign of creativity. Strangely the people who say this are usually messy themselves but we doubt there’s anything to be read into that…
Anyway, like it or not, your desk (rather like your bookshelf) will say a lot about you and plenty of people will attempt to channel their inner Sherlock and decode who you are based on it.
But what do the experts say about desk mess? Or lack thereof?
You might be surprised…
It’s not a new concept that messy equates to creativity. The idea of what it is to be an artist (and by artist we mean in any form of creative capacity) has been built up over centuries, emphasised by certain artistic movements themselves like the Bloomsbury group and the Romantics.
But is there any truth to it?
More than you might think.
Countless studies have revealed that messiness or disorder result in more creative, outside of the box thinking. A recent book by Tim Harford ‘Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World’ is just the latest theory on this. Harford states that we are constantly told by society that being neat and tidy is the ideal way to be and up to a point that’s true. But with everything in life having a label, a place, a logical order, the potential for being inspired or innovative is minimal.
Messiness has also been noted as something that seems to reduce ‘negative organisation’. By that we mean that people who frantically file and organise tend to spend more time on that then the actual completion of work.
So full steam ahead for messy desks, disastrous work areas and slovenly staff rooms, right?
Hang tight, we’re not done yet.
Now, whilst messy people might win points for being generally more creative, the Tidy Tribe win hands down when it comes to being productive.
That’s not really surprising though. A tidy person knows where everything is, they don’t have to wade through piles of paper or scramble through drawers. In a more unexpected way, tidy people are more productive because they’re a little less likely to have the sniffles. If you’re messy, the chances of properly cleaning your desk are minimal and so you can expect a few more germs to be lurking among the pen lids and sticky notes.
Tidy people are also, generally speaking, more methodical, they don’t flit from task to task and stay focused for longer periods of time. Messy people have a much more common tendency of leapfrogging from task to task, leaving loose threads in their wake (along with half empty coffee cups, chocolate wrappers and way more pens than necessary).
So what’s the answer? To Tidy or not to Tidy?
You should not strive for ultra-messy or ultra-tidy. If you’re a messy person, you need to curb it enough so it doesn’t boarder into chaos, but not try and cut it out altogether. Similarly, a naturally tidy person should loosen up a little, but not strive to be messy in an attempt to ‘be more creative’. The truth is we all know what works best for us when it comes to work space and we need to nurture that to our own advantage.
So to the Tidy Tribe I say: Go forth and organise to your hearts content, leave no file unlabelled and no paperclip misplaced.
To the Messy Crowd I say: May your paperwork never be in order and your desk a constant state of puzzlement to you.