We all know at least one person whose desk is a whirlwind of papers, slips, stationery, and sticky notes. In short, it’s an eye-sore and a Type-A’s worst nightmare. Most people are more likely to consider someone with a messy office as careless and less diligent. But there is some magic in that messy madness. After all, the likes of Einstein and Steve Jobs were notorious for horrendously messy desks.
A 2013 study in Psychological Science found that a messy environment boosts creativity. The study put 24 participants in a neat work-space, and 24 in a cluttered, messy one. They then gave the participants a Ping-Pong ball. Yup. A Ping-Pong ball. The participants were asked to come up with creative uses for the ball. Nothing was out of bounds.
Both sets of participants came up with similar numbers of uses, but the ones in the messier work-space came up with more creative, outlandish uses, while those in the neater space kept to more traditional uses. The authors of the study think this is because a neater work space puts people in a more traditional state of mind, making them less likely to think inventively.
Furthermore, neater desks could be a means for distraction. A 2001 study in Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction found that striving for a neat work-space distracts workers from the task at hand. In other words, the more time employees spend tidying and organising their desks, the more time they waste distracted from the tasks waiting to be completed.
Now, what works for some, may not work for others. Messiness in the workplace may be what drives other employees nuts. So how do you deal with that? What do you prioritise? Well, if messy employees are only being messy at their own work station, and so long as it doesn’t hamper their ability to do their job, live and let live. When that messiness begins to affect productivity, such as causing documents to go missing, or spreading to other parts of the work space, that’s when measures need to be taken to neaten up a little.
We’re not saying everyone needs to build a paper skyscraper on their desk – each to their own. But we are saying, maybe just let the messy one’s be. After all, it’s all part of their process. And if you let your co-workers be messy, you might just find some innovation for your company on the horizon.
What kind of a desk do you have?