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Why a tidy desk really leads to a "tidy mind"

Should you keep a tidy desk? Is a tidy desk really a sign of a tidy mind? From a productivity point of view, the quick answer is definitely yes. But what about creativity? Doesn’t too much organisation stifle creativity?

It is definitely true that working at the tidy, organised desk will increase your productivity. Having a clear workspace will reduce distraction – one of the key elements in lowering your ability to get things done. Distractions interrupt flow, that magical state that we get into when we are able to focus, when work just happens and time seems to stand still. Once interrupted it can take a while to get back into flow, and productivity is reduced.

Distractions then often lead to procrastination, another major player in the productivity arena. We all know what happens once procrastination hits. We stop doing what we’re meant to do and before we know it, half an hour or more has gone by and we still haven’t made any progress on the task at hand.

Working in a cluttered environment also means that it may be harder to find things. We waste a lot of time looking for notes to write that report, our pen to jot down a quick thought, the phone charger, etc. etc.

Staring at a cluttered desk as soon as we sit down also reminds us of all the things we still need to do, taking up valuable brain space. Stress levels increase as our brain takes in all that information and this is bad for our mental health in the long run. Taking time to organise your desk will make you more relaxed and you’ll be more motivated to get things done.

Even our physical health can suffer if our desks get out of control. Large amounts of clutter mean that the desk hasn’t been cleaned for a while and who knows whether there’s some leftover food rotting under all that stuff. Germs and mould have the chance to thrive in this kind of environment. If some of the stuff falls onto the floor, you can also add trip hazards to the list of issues.

The dangers of cluttered desks at the office

When working in an office environment, you might need to take privacy into consideration. With everything in its place, it is less likely that sensitive or confidential documents get into the wrong hands.

If you work in an office, a cluttered desk will signal to others that you are less organised and less reliable than your tidier colleagues. Whether that is true or not, doesn’t matter, this is the impression that your desk is giving. Studies have shown that people with messy desks are less likely to be promoted than those who keep their desks under control.

And if clients visit?

The same goes for anyone who receives clients into their (home) office. A messy desk can make a bad impression and make it more difficult for people to want to work with you. It’s still first impressions that count. Rightly or wrongly, we judge people by how we perceive them, especially if we don’t know them yet.

So regularly tidying your desk will not only save you time in the long run and make you more productive, you will also improve your physical and mental health; it can even help you to make more money.

When it’s time to tidy up

Making the change from a messy to tidy desk takes the decision to change. You need to carve out a bit of time to sort through your belongings, get rid of what you don’t need and organise the rest. If you’re used to having things out and in plain sight, make sure you label every container well, so that you don’t end up wasting time again looking for things. Once your desk is clear you can give it a good clean and only put back on the surface what you need on a daily basis.

You might want to add a few personal touches, such as something that reminds you of why you’re working hard or a motivational quote. If you’re not facing a window into nature you might want to add a small plant. Incorporating a bit of nature into your environment has been proven to reduce stress and improve mental health.

All you now need is about 5 minutes at the end of the workday to keep on top of things. Over time you might need even less than that.

It is also important to not look at the time you spend to create a good working environment as a waste but as an investment in your productivity which will pay very good dividends.

But what about creative chaos?

Studies have shown that a messy environment can help to spark creative thought and unconventional new ideas. This still needs to be seen in context. Having no room to create or never finding your creative tools when you’re inspired to create will not foster creativity. So even in this context you need some sort of organisation and keep the mess within reason.

Depending on your personality and your type of work you will find ways of staying organised but still keep the creative spark you need. It’s worth looking into organisational ideas for creative minds online to check out some options.

But I clean to procrastinate?!

Another word of warning. Don’t use “tidying your desk” as an excuse for procrastinating on tougher projects. Cleaning and tidying can be really satisfying as you’re quickly rewarded with small successes. This can get in the way of getting things done, especially when you’re working from home. Instead, plan time into your schedule when you are going to do those small jobs and set a timer while you’re doing them, so that your paid work doesn’t get pushed aside.

A messy desk is only one hurdle to getting things done. If you would like help with improving your personal productivity or that of your team, please check out my Work With Me page to see how I can help.


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