When faced with criticism for their messy workspace, many people have been comforted by the common claim, “A messy desk is a sign of genius. Just look at Einstein.” While it’s true Albert Einstein wasn’t exactly a neat freak, modeling your desk after his cleaning habits isn’t the best way to spark productivity. Before you let that stack of papers on your desk grow any bigger, there’s some recent research you may want to consider.
A study from the University of Michigan found that having a messy desk may also negatively impact your coworkers’ perception of you. Psychologists had 160 people sit in a researcher’s office that was either clean and orderly or messy. After sitting in the office, participants were asked to guess the personality of the researcher. Those with a messy office were not rated favorably.
“When there are cues related to less cleanliness, order, organization and more clutter in an owner’s primary territory, perceivers ascribe lower conscientiousness to the owner,” said lead study author Terrence Horgan, professor of psychology at UM-Flint. Messy desks and offices were assumed to belong to people who were emotionally unstable and difficult to get along with.
Beyond giving a bad impression to those around you, that messy desk could also be negatively impacting your own behavior and mental health. Scientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute have found that our brains prefer order. Disorganization makes it harder for the brain to focus on tasks. A Cornell University study also found that clutter can trigger cortisol, the stress hormone. Too much cortisol
can lead to anxiety and depression.
While research from the University of Minnesota did find that a little mess can encourage creativity, your environment won’t create something that isn’t there. Creative people may have messier desks, but a messy desk won’t automatically turn you into a creative genius.
If you find yourself unhappy or distracted by the mess at your desk, block off time on the calendar and spend a day cleaning up and tossing out old papers. While you’re at it, here are a few tips to help reinvent your workspace:
• Add a scent like a candle or oil diffuser
• Get rid of books you have read or will never read
• Buy a more comfortable chair
• Mount your monitor on the wall or with an arm that clamps to the desk
• Treat yourself to a brand-new desk
Refreshing your space can do more to spark creativity and productivity than that old, distracting mess ever will.
Thanks for reading,
Randy Sklar, CEO
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