There are many people saying that you shouldn’t have a messy desk; it’s not good for you or for productivity. It’s the common sense that we’ve basically grown up with. Now, why are there people writing about how a messy desk is actually good for you? Did we somehow learn some key detail to unlocking our potential with our desks?
While it is true, some studies have found benefits to having a messy desk, it is still true that a messy desk can be detrimental to productivity. The simple answer is that it’s not that simple. It’s situational. So, what are people really saying?
When it comes to deskwork, the state of one’s desk plays a role in a person’s productivity whether subconsciously or in a logistical sense. Clutter has been shown to increase anxiety in people. A combination of a lack of free movement and disorganisation is to blame for this. People typically don’t like to be restricted unwillingly and clutter acts as a physical restriction. Furthermore, clutter distracts the brain. When things are not organised, the brain tries really hard to mentally organise it. Thus, a lot of mental energy goes into those distractions. Together, these can impact productivity. When working at a desk, organisation is necessary for optimal productivity.
A messy desk impacts more than just productivity. It can affect your work in other ways as well. In terms of career and impressions, a messy desk does not leave a good one. There are stereotypes surrounding people with messy desks. Imagine what a client would think, stepping into an office and sitting across from you, a cluttered desk in between. What would an employer think about an employee surrounded by piles of stuff?
However, many famous people had notoriously messy desks. How did Albert Einstein come up with all of his brilliant ideas when his desk had papers strewn across all corners of the desk? This is where the thought that a messy desk might actually be useful stems from. But it doesn’t contradict the previous issues with a messy desk.
The studies that report the benefits of a messy desk actually don’t say that a messy desk is good for getting work done. Disorganisation is not great for that. What a messy desk does benefit is creativity. Yes, those studies found that working at a messy desk allows the brain to wander more. Orderly environments reportedly stifle creativity by trapping the brain in order and convention.
Thus, the best conclusion that can be derived is that in the early stages of brainstorming and idea creation, it is best to keep desks piled with mountains of ideas to supposedly stimulate the mind. Then, when it comes down to actually getting the work done, everything should be cleaned up and focus should be shifted to productivity.
But, we just don’t know the full story. We don’t know exactly what kind of desk a sales rep or a marketer should work at. In fact, what one considers disorganised and messy may be different in another’s perception. It’s a matter of personality. And that will differ from person to person.