MESSY DESK SIGN OF WORK IN PROGRESS

By Audrey Fraizer

It’s mid-September and I’m looking at the stacks of paper, binders, reminders, and assorted business cards that have accumulated on my desk for the past several months. I do sweep away crumbs from the zillion pretzels consumed during the same time, but by most standards, probably not often enough.

No one in the office has ever complained, at least to my face. I don’t think they judge my organizational skills. My mess is work related. I like to think of it as visual cues to help me get things done. Notes I write each evening  prioritize the next day’s goals. The stacks fall in line. My desk is organized in some particular fashion, known only to my interpretation.

As most “desk wrecks” would say, I know right where to go when looking for something. A neat desk would confuse me. How can anyone possibly find a hastily scribbled phone number or notes from an interview neatly tucked away in a desk drawer? What I need that day or the next is in the stack closest to my keyboard.

I’m not boasting of my environs. It’s just the way it’s always been during my 25+ year career. This is not a reflection of my inner soul. Numerous studies, of course, point to the contrary. Some suggest that desk clutter can cause anxiety, and leave the impression that you are a slob or scatterbrained in general.

That’s absolutely incorrect, and I will defend myself as anyone in the same position would.

My desk is far from the messy desks available for viewing online. There are no smelly food containers, no paper cranes made from discarded candy wrappers, and no random dried-up and uncapped tubes of Chapstick. I challenge you to find an apple core, dead fly, or used tissue.

Neither does my desk echo the clutter someone might expect to encounter inside my home, although, I do admit the desk in my home office suffers from the same problem. My desk is the storm in the middle of the calm.

Furthermore, there is empirical evidence in defense of messy desks.

A study published last year in the Journal of Consumer Research found that a cluttered desk could actually enhance the employee’s creativity in problem-solving and boost work efficiency. Messiness tends to activate a need for simplicity— and, to some extent, represent endless and unstructured possibility.

Albert Einstein had a messy desk, not that I’m in his league.

Soon, however, I will be given the opportunity to change.

In November, our department will be among the first to move into the new IAED office building. Years of accumulation will be forced from my desk during a day or two of frantic packing. Things will be tossed. Desk drawers will be emptied; the box near the corner of my desk will be discarded.

Some might say, herein lies the possibility. Has fate handed me the chance to start anew, to begin my march to eternal desk civility? I don’t think so. I might knock off the pretzels, but don’t expect me to cease getting things done.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR :
Audrey Fraizer is Managing Editor of the Journal, and is poster child for an editorial personality. She has a focused streak difficult to distract, calls library research a hobby, and believes she fools her co-workers into thinking she’s listening when she’s actually not.

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