Do you rarely see the surface of your desk because it’s covered with yellowing papers and post-its? Or are you one of those people who must clear your desk of clutter before you get anything else done?
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Researchers wanted to know what these habits say about you.
What they found might surprise you. A dirty desk isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Depending on your own personal comfort, researchers found that keeping your desk messy or tidy may simply 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 bit less with cleaning their office,” says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, Psy.D.
Messy desks and creativity
The study found messy-desk people were more likely to break free of tradition. They tend to produce new or fresh ideas, and be more creative.
“For some people, a lack of clutter reduces tension. I think the cleanliness or messiness of our desks or offices often says something overall about how people deal with stress and reduce tension,” Dr. Bea says.
Neat desks and doing right
On the flip-side, people who kept their desks clean were more likely to “do the right thing.” This might mean making a charitable donation or eating a healthy diet, researchers found. The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.
Dr. Bea says a clean desk may also reduce tension for some people because they may not like staring at all of the work that still needs to be 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.
Work space on display
Whether you’re a clean-freak, or your workspace resembles a pig pen, your desk may say a lot about you in the work world. With so many more open office plans being used today, our tidiness is often on display, whether we like it or not.
Dr. Bea says to avoid judging someone’s workspace, especially if it looks disorganized. He says there is often a method to someone’s madness. In the end, messy or clean, it comes down to what makes people most productive.
What matters: productivity
Consider 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 you are most productive when your desk is cleared off to the essentials, go for it.
“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.
Dr. Bea says if you find yourself not cleaning your desk enough for your own comfort, try putting it on your calendar each week. He says scheduling things is a healthy way to get things done.