Why You SHOULD Have A Messy Desk

by derek on October 23, 2008 · 18 comments

Kelvin Kao, author of this guest post, is a computer programmer (specifically, for mobile applications) and aspiring puppeteer. He writes the Puppet Kaos blog about puppetry and video production, and he also runs a video podcast with the puppet characters he creates.
Many people will tell you that being organized is how you can increase your productivity, but for many of us, organizing things based on artificially imposed rules is actually a waste of time. Of course, if you already have a clean desk, I am not telling you to mess it up on purpose.
What I am asking you to do, though, is to let organization take its own natural course. A seemingly unorganized desk might actually be the most optimally organized!

1. It’s Already Sorted By Priority

If you don’t actively clean your desk, your items are already sorted by its importance and urgency.
For example, the project you are currently working on will be right in front of you. That piece of paper that you haven’t looked at since two days ago will be sitting two feet from you. The books that you look up information in every now and then are sitting on the edge of the desk. That folder that you look at every few months is on the floor, and those homework assignments that you haven’t looked at since college will be far away under your bed (though this is an invasion of the natural habitat of Boogeyman, whom you also haven’t seen since even longer ago).
If you let organization take its natural course, you already have a system that sorts your items by priority and importance, with the recently accessed within your reach and the rarely needed stuff swept under the bed.
In computer architecture, computer engineers have tried very hard to mimic this structure. They keep caches for the most frequently and recently used data, store the somewhat less important ones on a back-up hard drive, and then archive the rarely used on tape drives or CDs. Computer engineers have always been looking for efficient ways to do things, but guess what? They ended up mimicking what we already naturally do.

2. Things Are Sorted By Relevance

In your brain, things related to each other have connections between them. When people brainstorm, some use mind-mapping techniques to generate ideas, so why don’t we use the same idea for organizing things? For example, why don’t we put the scissors next to the glue because they are both related to the craft project you are doing? And why don’t we put your sketch pad next to the pencils because you always use them together? I don’t see why not. Let’s do that!
Oh wait, I just realized we can’t do it because it’s already been done! The scissors and glue are already together because you just left them that way the last time you did a craft project, and the pencils are already on top of the sketch pad because you put them there the last time you drew!
The most intuitive way to sort things is the way you naturally leave things. So there’s no reason not to do that.

3. What If You Can’t Find Something?

People that impose an artificial set of organization rules are worried about not being able to find things. For example, they have assigned where the pencil, eraser, pens, paper clips should go in the drawer. This is fine most of the time, probably, but what if you forget one day and misplace an item? You don’t see the thing in the assigned spot, and you will have no idea where you put it. You will have to look everywhere to find the item.
On the other hand, if you don’t consciously organize your desk, you will just think about how you used the item last. For example, if you are looking for your glue gun, you will look at where the other crafting tools like scissors are. And if you don’t find it, you can think back. You remembered that you washed your hands after using it so you looked next to the sink… and there it is.
So although you misplaced something, you figure out where it is very soon after. Now that’s the power of not organizing things.

4. It Stimulates Your Brain

When you assign every item a spot on your desk, organizing just involves the mindless motion of putting things into place. However, if you don’t actively organize it, you will be jogging your memory every time you look for something. This does not take a lot of brain power but it does constantly stimulate your brain. And that’s never a bad thing.
So, if you are the kind of person that spends two hours cleaning up your desk before starting a task, think again. Maybe a messy desk is just what you need. Yep, it works, because there is certainly method in the madness.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

John @ Maryland Real Estate October 23, 2008 at 11:11 am

I would love to have an organized desk, and yes there are many advantages to however I just never seem to be able to keep it organized for more than a day or two. I guess I just don’t have the discipline.
Johns last blog post..Shady Side Real Estate


Tyler Ingram October 23, 2008 at 11:22 am

I try to always keep my desk clear of clutter. It forces me to go through the gadgets, papers etc I need to deal with before I put them away into their spots.
It also relaxes me more when my work area is tidy and does not have things all thrown around on it. I also would hate to dump my cup o water on my recent repair estimate or that check I got from affiliates 😉
Tyler Ingrams last blog post..My Work Area While Telecommuting


Abby @ Payday Loans October 23, 2008 at 7:10 pm

I love that you justify having a messy desk! I’ve never been one to be clean, and now I have validation that a messy desk is the mark of a great worker. 🙂


Liza @ Discount Area Rugs October 23, 2008 at 7:13 pm

A messy desk is the way to go. Too clean is too rigid and boring.


Ling@Uptake October 23, 2008 at 11:00 pm

Never thought of it that way. Basically means messy people are better organized than people who keep things neat and tidy. Now I have science on my side to support my laziness. 🙂


Kelvin Kao October 24, 2008 at 3:22 am

And obviously some people are spending their time reading this post rather than cleaning their desks… 😉


Nicole Price October 24, 2008 at 4:01 am

This is like preaching to the already converted. I have access to both types of desks, mine, which is cluttered and my colleague’s which is spic and span. Guess where I find maximum efficiency?


James Lee October 24, 2008 at 8:56 pm

here i really coundn’t express my feeling, i found that most of comments have “nofollow” links, but a few ones not.
The owner has rich experience in blog marketing. Is that OK?


Max Infoway October 25, 2008 at 3:19 am

I’ve never been one to be clean, and now I have validation that a messy desk is the mark of a great worker. Basically means messy people are better organized than people who keep things neat and tidy.


Drumsreview October 25, 2008 at 3:56 am

I try to always keep my desk clear


Almir Bojkovic October 25, 2008 at 11:31 pm

I am the ocd kind of person so i would have to disagree i can’t see a messy desk as it would bother me as i would constantly be looking at it.


kouji@haiku poems examples October 27, 2008 at 6:36 am

nice. 😀 i’d still rather have a clean desk if possible. but if it isn’t, i won’t agonize over it. 🙂
koujis last blog post..autumn nature haiku poem


Nick@romandock dot com October 27, 2008 at 1:08 pm

I wish my desk were cleaner, but this post makes me feel not so bad about it…except the fact that I now do all my computing via laptop on the couch because I can’t hardly get to my desktop…
Nicks last blog post..How Blog Readers Are Like Cookies


wilhb81 October 29, 2008 at 6:28 am

With all the coffee stains, an inch of dust and all those cookies pieces sticking inside my keyboard, I think I a lot messier than you here, Derek
Hmm, maybe I should spend some times to clean up all the mess right now….or, maybe tomorrow…lol
wilhb81s last blog post..The Useful Business Tips 6: The 5 Tips You Must Know, If You Want to Take Your Small Business Online!


John @ Free iPod October 29, 2008 at 8:00 am

Derekm you don’t want to know how long I’ve been looking for a list of excuses like these.
There’s one part of mess which you can’t have an excuse for though and that is rubbish. Yo uhave to throw away the rubbish you’ve made from using the scissors and glue.
Apart from that, this is perfect reasoning.


John Henn October 30, 2008 at 7:01 am

If everything is organized in the right way it should help a great deal and save lots of important time.
John Henns last blog post..Styles and Terms


Robert@Northern Virginia Real Estate Agent March 15, 2011 at 9:36 am

A once a week or every 2 week desk dump is always in order so that you can begin to build and create again.


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