Messy vs. Clean: the battle for desk space

Messy vs. Clean: the battle for desk space

Messy vs. Clean: the battle for desk space



As someone with a messy desk, it can be easy to feel judged as people walk past – but should the tidy desks be the ones getting the second look?




  1. It promotes clear thinking
    A recent study  from Germany indicated that those with messy desks have more ordered thoughts and can more easily remember tasks. Famous thinkers such as Albert Einstein and Roald Dahl had messy workspaces – could they have been successful because of, rather than instead of, their disorderly habits?
  2. A messy workspace is related to higher education
    Ever seen a professor’s desk? They probably haven’t seen their own desk for years thanks to all the piles of paper. Turns out the more educated an individual, the messier their desk is likely to be. While there’s no hypothesis from the researchers on this one, it may be because they’re too focused on their work to worry about where each paper should be filed.
  3. Tidy workers might be ready to leave
    According to a Psychology Today article, workers who have few personal items at their desks, and who keep everything spick and span might be psychologically preparing to leave the company. A lack of clutter could indicate a lack of commitment.
  4. Perfect order indicates lack of creativity
    “Following rigid organizational systems and living life driven by a day planner means you're operating with blinders on,” authors of A Perfect Mess, Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman said. “If you don't inject a little disorder in your life you mostly likely will miss out on the serendipity of an unplanned success.”


In the Tidy Corner

  1. Tidy desk, tidy mind
    “Outer order is inner calm” – although there have been few academic studies it seems anecdotally at least many people feel better and less stressed when their workspace is tidy. Time management experts say a tidy desk helps promote organized thinking, and saves time looking for specific things.
  2. Your colleagues are judging you
    Regardless of the psychological pros and cons it’s a fact that co-workers judge each other based on the tidiness, or untidiness, of each other’s desks. It might not be fair, but if someone’s looking at a promotion it’s probably in their best interest to start clearing desk space.
  3. The dangers of scattered products
    If the mess spreads to the floor, or involved teetering towers of paper you’re looking at a health and safety issue more than a problem with someone’s ability to organize. What’s more, if you work in an information-sensitive industry leaving a paper on display could be a security issue. In these situations it’s appropriate for HR to step in. Try scheduling a time for the individual in question to tidy up and file appropriately.

Have your say

Do you use social media as an internal communication tool?

Latest News

Safety first: $60k in damages despite OHSA breach
Parents held back by inflexible employers
“Extraordinary ability”: Talk show host and playboy bunny get immigration fast track

Most Discussed

Office affairs start with a virtual X
Promote from within: design career paths for retention and engagement
Leadership lessons from Captain Kirk


  • Amy Coors 2012-09-06 6:55:02 AM
    I am printing the first half of this list and sticking it to the pinboard above my desk - great to know those piles of paper are making me more creative and efficient!
    Post a reply
  • Jake Henderson 2012-09-06 6:57:23 AM
    I think #2 on the tidy list is the real reason to have a clear, accessible space. Regardless of these scientific studies, most managers will judge your organizational skills by the state of your desk. If you want a promotion or increase responsibility it's in your best interest to appear well-organized.
    Post a reply
  • Lyn Cunningham 2012-09-06 1:26:24 PM
    This is the old 'filers vs pilers' arguement. For visual learners items in a drawer might as well be on the moon as in 'out of sight, out of mind' but for the OCDers it is a disaster area if not tidily in a drawer. Where the information is is much less important than whether its owner can find information when it is needed. As for bosses that believe tidy desks are a sign of good management I can only ask how much are you paying for it-hands busy filing are not actively involved in the work itself....
    Post a reply