Messy Desk v Tidy Desk
13 April 2019

Productivity at work – clean desk policy - stress

The jury’s out on whether a messy desk is a sign of disorganisation and lower productivity or an indication of creativity.

On the one hand we have Albert Einstein, who said:
"If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" And there are some undoubtedly highly creative people who’d agree, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison amongst them.

But for most of us a cluttered desk is just that - a desk covered with clutter. It looks bad, reduces efficiency and drains energy.

Our workplace affects us and has an impact on the way we work. If you don’t file documents properly (whether they’re physical or scanned and saved to the server or cloud),you lose time every time you search. One survey showed that information workers waste up to two hours a week searching for lost digital documents.

Emotions and behaviour are also affected. Cluttered spaces can negatively affect stress and anxiety levels, as well as our ability to focus, eating choices, and sleep.

Research carried out at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute studied the impact of clutter on human brains. It concluded that our brains like order, and constant visual reminders of disorder drain our cognitive resources and reduce our ability to focus. They also found that when participants cleared clutter from their work environment, they were better able to focus and process information, and their productivity increased.

Working and living in a disorderly way can also affect our general mental health, making us feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. For instance, research in 2009 found the levels of the stress hormone cortisol were higher in mothers whose home environment was cluttered. Having higher levels of can over time lead to anxiety and depression.

Relationships can be affected too. In one study, participants with messy desks were considered by others to be less conscientious, more neurotic, and less agreeable. Such perceptions of an employee are likely to adversely influence the way that others interact with them and may have negative consequences for their career progression.

If you are muddling along and your desk, drawers or online folders are messy, it’s time to sort out and spring clean. Regularly tidy your workspace. The trick is to file something as soon as you have finished working with it, so you’re only dealing with one thing at a time. That takes self-discipline, especially when you’re crazily busy. But ten seconds now will save hours in the future.

Introduce a clean-desk policy to encourage the tidiness of shared work spaces. This doesn’t mean shoving all the ness into drawers just so it’s out of sight. Drawers must be well organised too. If you haven’t done so already ask your IT people to provide support for employees in the form of tools to manage online documents efficiently, as well as clarity on

what should be kept and what can be discarded.

Finally, remember to strike a balance between practical and security considerations, and keep in mind employees’ need for self-identity and autonomy.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2021 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.