June 2, 2020/Mental Health

Is Your Desk Messy or Tidy? Find Out What It Says About You

It might simply come down to your personality

Messy or clean desk

Is your desk covered with papers and post-it notes? Or do you have to clear your desk of clutter before getting anything else done? Find out what this says about you. The answer might actually surprise you.


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A messy desk isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. ​It really boils down to your level of personal comfort. Keeping your desk messy or tidy could just reflect a difference in personality. “A person with a messy work space may just be very busy and engaged with their work and a little less so with cleaning their office,” Dr. Bea says.

Is a messy desk a sign of a creative mind?

Researchers have actually been curious about what these habits say about you. One study tried to get to the bottom of that excuse, er we mean question!

The management school experts looked at whether working in a messy or neat office had any influence on workers’ behavior.

The findings? Messy-desk people were more likely to break free of tradition. They tended to produce new or fresh ideas, and be more creative. The findings, at the very least, support the hypothesis that keeping your desk disorganized or orderly is a matter of personality.

“For some people, a lack of clutter reduces tension,” Dr. Bea weighs in. “I think the cleanliness or messiness of our desks or offices often says something overall about how people deal with stress and reduce tension.”

A clean desk may also reduce tension for some people, he says, because they may not like staring at all of the work that still needs done.”

If clutter doesn’t bother a person, and they have a big deadline to focus on, they’re more likely to dive into the project without worrying about the neatness of their desk,” he adds.

Does having a messy or tidy desk matter?

Are people who have a tidy desk simply fans of giving themselves gold stars, or do they actually have a leg up on their messy colleagues? Turns out, it’s not that cut and dry.

But whether you’re a neat freak or your workspace is chaotic, your desk might say a lot about you in the work world, Dr. Bea says. Sure, many companies are increasingly embracing working remotely — and many are currently working from home right now given the coronavirus pandemic.

But if you’re still having to go into a workplace that has an open office plan, it’s important to realize that your work style is often on display (whether you like it or not).

Still, Dr. Bea says it’s wise to avoid judging someone’s workspace, especially if it looks disorganized.

“There’s often a method to someone’s madness,” he notes. “In the end, messy or organized, it comes down to what makes people most productive.”


When is having a messy desk actually a problem?

What matters most when evaluating your workspace is your own productivity, Dr. Bea says. If you work best when you focus on your projects without a care for stacks of file folders around you, so be it.

But if the clutter around you impedes your productivity, best get to tidying up.

“In the end, you want your mind to feel uncluttered. That’s what makes a difference — more than what is actually on your desk,” he says.

If you find yourself not cleaning your desk enough for your own comfort, Dr. Bea suggests putting it on your calendar each week. He says scheduling things is a healthy way to get things done.


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