Tidy desk, tidy mind?


piles of paperwork

The leaning tower of paperwork

In September 2013, a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, discovered that people with messy desks were more likely to be creative and take risks. Conversely, those with tidy desks were prone to following rules and less able to break free from convention and develop fresh insights.

But before you laugh in the face of your coffee-cup stained bills, your leaning tower of correspondence and your heaving inbox (an ex-colleague of mine had 35,000 unread emails shouting at her every day on her iPhone!!), the study also concludes that it can be helpful to interchange between states to vary the outcome. So when trying to be creative and generate new ideas, it could be helpful to relax and let the ‘stimulus’ take over, but when you need to focus on a specific task or get things ticked off the list, an orderly environment might be the answer.

Creating a stimulating environment could include plenty of open books and magazine articles, beautiful art prints or quotes, stunning images or random things like Lego – anything that inspires creativity. Be clear, this is about relaxing, not being a slob. In an interview, lead researcher of the study, Dr. Vohs said “There are two types of messy environments. One is unkempt and one is dirty. I don’t think these results suggest leaving around banana peels and dirty dishes for a week.” We would therefore recommend a bin as a key addition to your workspace.

Some other ways to clear the clutter and work towards a focused activity, could include:

  • A pin board – get all those scraps of paper, magazine tears and business cards off your desk. While transferring, check you actually need them all!
  • A notebook – try and keep all your notes in one place, grab it when a call comes in or take it into a meeting. That way you know where to find whatever it was that you wrote down the other week.
  • A desk tidy – whether that’s a set of in-trays or box file, move piles of paperwork into a defined space for ‘actioning’ – just don’t forget about it!
  • A pen pot – prevent that ‘where’s my pen, I’ll just look under hereeeeeeeeeeeeee’ moment when the leaning tower collapses.

And look! There’s a clear bit of desk space! Whoop! Doesn’t that feel good?