Are Messy Desks Such a Bad Thing?

by Jennifer Miller on March 7, 2013

in Personal Effectiveness

Personal Effectiveness

This post is sponsored by Official Space, the UK’s favorite office space website.Official Space

Almost everyone has used a desk at some point in their life. It’s just one of those things you do. From school to University to work, the desk is a tool built for a very practical purpose.

But there tends to be two specific kinds of people when it comes to desks; those that like it tidy. And those that don’t. Chances are you can see a desk like this now. Have a peek around the office. We’ll wait.

Did you see a messy desk? Possibly piled high with mountains of paperwork, used coffee cups and family photographs? What did you think? Or are you the person with that desk?

On an interesting note, it seems that over 50% of American office workers will judge fellow employees based on the cleanliness of their desk area.

Many companies tend to prefer a clean and clutter-free office space, but is this really the way to go? Studies on both sides of the fence show that in one regard, a messy desk can undermine a worker’s productivity and motivation.

If you think about it, that makes sense right? If you have a cluttered desk, then people might assume you’re not very organized and therefore unprofessional. It can also lead to the assumption that this disrupted environment clutters the mind and prevents logical and organized judgment.

An organized desk is traditionally seen to provide the motivation to work more effectively and efficiently.

However, German researchers also found that having a messy desk might not be as damaging for productivity as once thought. The studies intimated that ‘messy desks may not be as detrimental as they appear to be, as the problem-solving approaches they seem to cause can boost work efficiency or enhance employee’ creativity in problem solving.’

The results were quite interesting – visual and mental clutter (on desk and in mind) actually encouraged the mind to start simplifying the thought processes, making tasks easier to complete.

So when your boss tells you to clean up your desk after the busy work day, there’s at least a little evidence that keeping it messy is the right thing to do.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
-Albert Einstein



Image courtesy of Shutterstock

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jennifer Miller March 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm


Agreed, this is not an either/or – depends on the level of clutter. Others (via my LinkedIn feed) have also indicated that the type of work one does might dictate how messy one can be. For example, a creative type like a writer could have scattered “matter” all over the place, but a banker? Not so much.

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