Are untidy desks really making us unproductive?

Are untidy desks really making us unproductive?

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

Wherever you are working: in a corporate office or from the comfort of your home, you need a desk. Most likely, you are reading this article while sitting at the desk, too. What does it look like?

It is a popular belief that keeping one messy is a sign of inefficiency. But can clutter be called a serious productivity blocker?

Creativity is not minimal

A study published by the Association for Psychological Science claims that both tidy and messy desks have their own benefits. You are likely to be more concentrated if your desk is not covered in post-its and coffee stains, they argue. An orderly environment influences individuals to conform to the conventional rules and expectations, so it helps doing what is set for them with ease. Contrarily, messy surroundings correlate with a departure from conventions and unlock creative thinking. Therefore, removing any semblance of your not-very-tidy-self from your working desk might lead to doing more, but nothing new or creative.

Redefining clutter

Brooks Palmer, creator of ClutterBusting, suggests that clutter should not be understood as a synonym for disorder. Clutter encompasses only items that do not serve us, he says. Therefore, productivity is not the talent to maintain a neat workplace, but the awareness about environmental triggers and their effects on a personal working style. If a pile of papers makes you feel out of control, it clearly doesn’t serve any good - fix it. But if that framed family picture is inspiring you, it’s a keeper.

Shifting from desks to workspaces

Indisputably, a physical workplace environment is an important factor in employee productivity, and businesses have been continuously investing time and resources in creating a favourable one.The result? Hot desks, cubicles, meeting rooms, relaxation areas - today’s modern office is everything but a single, personal desk. While it is still a staple, more and more attention is being given to the variety of workspaces and the freedom to select between silent and chatty, standing or seated, office or home - whatever brings the best results. As choice and dynamism prevail, static workplaces, such as desks, are losing their impact on efficiency.


So do untidy desks make us unproductive? Not really. A quick declutter session can boost results here and now, but long-term productive habits grow from deeper understanding of how your brain works. Staying prolific is being able to organize and optimize the workplace according to your needs, and having possibilities to select the most suitable environments.

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