Walk into an office with a dozen desks and you’re likely to see 11 that are clean, especially at night, and one that has miscellaneous papers, files, boxes, and half-empty bottles of water.
The person who works there says he’s just creative and likes to have all his stuff in sight so he doesn’t have to dig into a file cabinet.
Some research supports the messy/creative system. A study of 48 students at the University of Minnesota showed that people working in a messy room came up with more creative ideas for using ping-pong balls than those in a tidy room.
But for neat co-workers, just the sight of piles of papers and stuff can stress them out, distract them from work and may even hurt their performance.
The appearance of your desk and work area is hugely important, says Judith Bowman, author of books on corporate etiquette. But the desk and floor around it are very personal. Criticizing them is like telling someone they’re a sloppy dresser or a bad housekeeper.
Some messy people say they work too fast to stop and file things. Others say the clutter itself has an organizing system. Still others say the mess is like a visual to-do list. Pressuring mess-makers to clean up isn’t easy.
About 57 percent of adults surveyed by Adecco, a staffing company, have judged co-workers on the appearance of their workspace, and 28 percent say they would be less likely to promote someone with a messy workspace.
A few employers hold annual decluttering days. Messy people just make their paper stacks look neater.
The Wall Street Journal tells of one executive whose desk includes porcelain animals, sports memorabilia, foam guns, computers and batteries.
If he wants to concentrate on something, he moves to another room.