A Tidy Desk Equals a Tidy Mind? Not Necessarily

Your colleague is on vacation, and you need a file that you know is on her desk – somewhere. You dig around a little reluctantly, searching for what you need among coffee cups, pictures of rainbows drawn by her daughter, and the tower of junk mail that she never gets round to dealing with. Throwing up your hands in despair, you exclaim, "How on earth can she work like this?"

But the truth is, she can work like this because "this" is how she works.

The average American will work for about 40 hours a week between the ages of 20 and 65. That's an astounding 90,000 hours spent in the office. So it makes sense that our desks become extensions of our homes, our personalities, and, well, us. And so when we judge the state of each other's desks (tidy or otherwise), we're really making statements about each other. But why does it bother us so much?

I think it's down to that supremely human trait of thinking that our way of doing something is superior. However obviously untrue that is, it can be hard to quell that inner judge. In my own experience, there are really four major working styles. After you read this article, I challenge you to take a look around your office and attempt to decipher who fits into which category (no laughing and pointing, please).

The Information Junkie
These guys are extremely organized and are all about gathering information. They'll never make a decision before considering every last scrap of evidence, analyzing the pros and cons, and having comprehensive data to back them up.

In order to easily access all of the information they require, their desks need to be neat, free of clutter, and have space for lots of reference books. These people like to be close to their mine of information at all times; just think of them as Linus with a thesaurus as their security blanket.

The Home From Homer
We all have a co-worker who fits this description: someone with a desk that is cluttered with a thousand small things that remind this person of home. Pictures of their kids, parents, friends, and their pet ferret Fergus are everywhere, fighting for space with the hand cream, box of tissues, plants, and occasional stuffed toy.

This person is really comfortable at work: He or she probably has a pair of slippers tucked under the desk. But you can't fault their experience, their commitment, or their role in the team as listening ear, team cheerleader, or even the chief birthday cake maker.

The Machine
This person is efficiency in human form, so it makes sense that this desk reflects his or her absolute clarity of focus. What's on the desk is what absolutely has to be there, and nothing else. Laptop, coffee, iPhone, and one or two books on how to get even more done in a day. These types may sometimes lack that "personal touch." When they're at work, they're completely focused on the task at hand, and there's never enough time in the day for cooing over baby photos.

They regularly clean out their offices, getting rid of anything old or irrelevant. Nothing will slow them down in their quest for office-wide domination. One should never borrow their desk, and especially don't ever leave your cardigan draped over the back of their chair. You've been warned.

Chaos Theory
In contrast, this desk may well be the cluttered horror of your nightmares. It will have scraps of paper everywhere, from when the owner of the desk was struck by a great idea and simply had to write it down. It will have a laptop, probably a couple of phones – one for work and one to keep track of their crazy social life – and random pictures stuck up everywhere for "inspiration." This person is unstructured, jumping from one idea to another, and not easy to pin down to dates and deadlines, but one can't deny that in that sea of chaos lies a wealth of genius ideas that just need brought to life.

And who is going to help bring it to life? Here is where all four dynamic working styles come together to form a magical equation for productivity:

The Information Junkie is going to do the research, investigate the alternatives, and give his expert opinion on how to achieve the best outcome. The Machine is going to make it happen, no matter what, because it's a fantastic idea. She'll create a project plan, assign tasks, and keep everyone on track with her overall vision pulling it all together. And the Home from Homer is going to keep everyone together as a team while it happens, boosting team morale, making sure everyone is on the same page, and being the steadying hand of the whole project -- plus, this one will bring cake!

As I said at the start, our workstations are, necessarily, extensions of ourselves and our working styles. There's no "right" way to keep your desk, just as there's no "right" way to work. We each bring something unique and appreciated to our teams. So the next time you laugh at your colleague because everything on his desk just "has" to be at a right angle, remember, that's his security blanket – don't touch!

Jo Eismont is a social media and Web editor with Insights Learning and Development. She has years of experience in the learning and development industry and is very passionate about sharing the philosophy of "doing what you love and loving what you do." With two small children at home, a Twitter addiction, and a burgeoning love of blogging, she strives to share Insights' values so that her audience finds the right new position or way to love their job as much as she does.

Posted by Jo Eismont on Jun 04, 2015

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