The ‘Messy Desk’ Myth

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk? – Einstein

This is a great little myth that is wheeled out by those with a messy desk to warrant not keeping their desk clean, however it can also be used without reference in the opposite by someone with a clean desk to explain the Zen of having an empty mind to be able to think clearly.

The constant headlines and photos don’t help, a quick little google search and you come up with the following;

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook.

 

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

 

Einstein's Desk

Einstein’s Desk

 

Neat Desk

Neat Desk

 

Craig Newmark founder Crraiglist

Craig Newmark founder Craiglist

 

Clean Desk

Clean Desk

While you have been reading this article and especially while you just scrolled through those photos you are making a lot of judgements and undertaking a lot of internal dialogue, especially about each one of the photos, this self talk provides a real insight into your core motivators. In particular this self talk has basically told you if you should or should not have a messy desk. Some comments you could have thought;

  • How could you work like that?
  • I could never work like that!
  • How lazy are they?
  • Where’s all the stuff?
  • That looks like my desk.
  • Ahh!! thats much nicer.
  • I wish I was like him.

So what comes first the Messy Desk or the Creativity? Should you really have a messy desk? Should you keep your desk messy to unleash your creativity? Or are you hindering your success by trying to have a messy desk?

The answer to these is knowing your core motivators, your core motivators will dictate the reason your desk is the way it is, your core motivators will dictate the benefit out of the state of your desk. Your core motivators will drive the outcome, not the outcome driving your motivators.

Looking in detail at the 2 Core Motivator groups we can see that your desk is messy for a reason;

The motivator of Task vs People

  • Task – It is about getting the task at hand done, nothing will stand in your way, a messy desk can be ignored as it add nothing to what is being done. This can be seen in the Mark Zuckerberg picture, he is head down in the task and the stuff around him has no impact on what he is doing.
  • People – How other people see your desk is the main driver here, you like to keep things clean as you don’t want people making assumptions that you are lazy, or messy. You care about the environment that other people need to work in and.

Reserved vs Outgoing

  • Reserved – You like to have control and consistency over your life, over your things, control over your desk, control over your mind. Everything needs to be in order, if things are out of place then they annoy you. This goes for the things around you, the messy desk of someone else can really get on your nerves.
  • Outgoing – Chaos and mess is something to be worked around, you like a challenge and you don’t like be held back doing things that aren’t moving you forward. A messy desk is just a sign you have more important things to do.

So a Messy desk is the sign you are driven by the Task and the Outgoing side of the task. You don’t see the mess you see the task and just want to get it done and do something else, a messy desk doesn’t hold you back.

One thing to note is the group of people who should have a messy desk is small, the majority of the population should and would benefit from having a clean desk. The organisation and control that comes from a clean desk will enable you to do your best work, you won’t be sitting there thinking about the mess, spending every moment worrying about it.

So a messy desk won’t trigger creativeness, a messy desk is a byproduct of someone who could be considered creative. Don’t make your desk messy in the hope it will trigger your creative side, because most likely it will just get on your nerves, and the person next to you that has a messy desk, you might need to work out how to live with it.

So is your desk messy? Is it messy for a reason? Is it enabling a more functionalife, or is the messiness actually causing you issue?