Who'd have thought a messy desk could be such an advantage?

The Messy Desk

What do I have in common with Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg?

No, it’s not that I’m a genius, though it’s very kind of you to suggest it.

You’ll never guess so I’ll tell you: It's a messy desk.

Or in the case of Albert and Steve, they had a messy desk.

There’s a lot of evidence, especially when you google ‘geniuses have messy desks’, to suggest that a messy desk is indicative of a creative mind.

It also enhances creativity and productivity .

Particularly for authors, as we spend so much time at our desks.

A Cluttered Desk Is Best

The Clean Desk Mafia may well snort in derision, but there are perfectly logical reasons why a cluttered and messy desk is best:

Because tidy is the societal norm, those with untidy desks tend to be more unconventional and imaginative in their thinking.

The creative process is not necessarily a neat, structured process that responds to law and order and a tidy desk, but is often jump-started by chaos. Research has shown that clutter can force us to focus and think more clearly.

Too much time and energy is taken up keeping your work area neat, when it could be used for creative purposes.

Except when you’re procrastinating – that is the perfect time to tidy your desk. Even though you know it’s pointless, because it will be messy again before the day is out.

There is method in the madness of a messy desk – a system which ergonomist Mark Lander calls the volcano.

In the middle is a relatively clear area where all the work is done and around it things pile up in order of importance. The urgent and commonly used stuff is close by. It then fans out to the less important stuff, which is further away and/or buried at the bottom of the pile.

Instant filing – no need for an in-tray or a filing cabinet. Nick Earls, a fellow messy author, elaborates in his blog post On The Efficacy of Mess.

A cluttered desk is more efficient than a tidy desk. David Freedman, author of A Perfect Mess says, 'A survey found that people who had messy desks spent less time hunting for things than people who had very neat desks.

That makes a lot of sense, because when you have a messy desk, you're arranging things in a way that's customized to the way you think and work.'

We’ve all had the experience of having a tidying up blitz and not being able to remember where we’ve put something. If that ‘something’ lives permanently on your desk, you always know its approximate location.

Having a messy desk teaches you to deal with criticism.

Invariably the Clean Desk Mafia will make snide comments, such as, 'It looks as if a bomb has gone off here.’

Cluttered Desk Cluttered Mind

And you have to learn to shrug it off and smile enigmatically, as if you know the secret of the universe.

Afterwards you send them a copy of your best-selling book with a note: ‘This book was written at an extremely messy desk.’

That’s my fantasy anyway, you can make up your own.

As you can see from the image of my desk at the beginning of this post, I subscribe to the volcano theory, and also to the school of post-it-note prompts.

The last word belongs to Einstein who said, ‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?’

What are your thoughts?

Are you a messy desk or clean desk supporter?

Leave a comment (and justification of your status) in the comments box below.

  • Seriously, you call that a messy desk? I could teach you what it means to have a mess.

    Course you are getting some writing done, and I am not. I spend too much time berating myself for having such a mess on my table where I work to write.

    🙂 love your blog tho. I can’t seem to find a way to read other comments. Maybe it’s an android thing. Betty

    • Hi Betty
      Thanks for your compliment about my desk! It has, in fact, been a lot worse – perhaps I should have messed it up a bit more for the photo. 🙂
      I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog – it seems strange that you can’t read the comments – they should be visible below the comments box. My computer is android and I can read them.

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