Monday April 10, 2006

Felix Or Oscar?

I’m relatively neat (or so I think), but my workspaces have some clutter around them. At home, for example, I currently have my tax return info on top of my printer. My electric bill is out on my desk. There is a stack of low priority mail on my desk, too, that I need to look at but haven’t. At work, I have few dozen books and pamphlets stacked on a corner of my desk for reference on a current project. I have more books and magazines between bookends. I’d put them on a shelf… if there was space to put them on. And I have a random sprinkling of candy wrappers, pens, and papers scattered about—casualties of a busy day.

Perhaps messiness is the result of all the things I now need to remember as a more responsible member of the workplace. Though I honorably label myself “neat”, I intentionally leave letters, bills, and other paraphanelia out in the open—mostly for memory assistance. Is this degree of messiness some kind of RAM? After all, if the bills are filed away in a folder labeled “Bill To Pay”, I guarantee they won’t get paid until my pink copies come in the mail. Keeping information out in the open reminds me of my unfinished tasks. Or maybe it’s a sign of disorganization.

I wonder if environment and workload have anything to do with Messy Desk Syndrome (MDS). At my current job, I find that my desk is more prone to be messy, whereas at my past jobs my desk was darn near immaculate. My current job has my desk connecting with the desks of my 2 design cohorts. At my past jobs, my desk was separated from my coworkers by several feet. My current job keeps me very busy, while my previous jobs had periods of significant downtime. My last designer-in-crime, Matt Esparza, also kept his workspace very tidy, while my current co-workers employ—how shall I say—a “relaxed desktop filing system.” ;) It seems to work for them, though I haven’t delved deep into that discussion (no pun intended). Is my change in cleanliness coincidence or influence?

37signals once suggested that readers put everything on their desk into a box and only take something out of the box to put back on the desk when it was needed. Interesting idea, though I wonder how much time I would lose digging through a box for a wireframe printout. Or would I simply forget it existed if I couldn’t see it?

Ajilion Office has some interesting things to say about the state of desk organization:

  • The older you get, the messier you become. Whereas 60% of 18-24 year olds keep their spaces organized, only 36% of workers ages 55-64 claim the same.
  • The higher the salary, the messier the person: 66% of Americans making $35,000 or less per year are self-described “neat freaks,” whereas only 11% of those earning above $75,000 claim the same.
  • The more educated tend to be messier with only 16% consider themselves to be neat. For those who did not finish college, this number increases to 29%.


And then there are those who propose that a messy desk is the sign of an ordered mind. Huh? Could it be?

Extend this topic to virtual spaces, like your computer desktop or your Backpack. What does it mean to be “messy” or “neat” (which are two very subjective words)? Does (or should) your cleanliness—or lack thereof—reflect upon your design skills or your perceived productivity?


Erik Mallinson » 4209 days ago #

I have to say yes, being organized (and organized looking) does help. I would have never thought so until I read Getting Things Done. I was always trying to figure out a new way to organize stuff (why I like Web Design I guess) but after reading GTD I’ve found my own ways to keep my desk area (paper and digital) in good shape.

It’s been really healthy for my decision making, creativity, and planning skills.

Jeremy Johnson » 4209 days ago #

Being one of your co-workers who employs “a relaxed desktop filing system”, I have to say it’s even more relaxed at my home office ;-) – but even in this day of Spotlight and Google Desktop, the files on my computer are nice and tidy. In other words: I hate paper…

Jared Christensen » 4209 days ago #

You have no idea how much time it took to come up with the diplomatic term “relaxed desktop filing system”... ;)

ME » 4206 days ago #

My desk is always super-neat and i’ll tell you my secret. Learn the Art of putting your mess on someone else desk.

Garrett » 4200 days ago #

I’m a bit late to the game on this, but it might just be that Stephen’s stuff is overflowing onto your desk.

« Older writing is available in the Archives.