You can find a hero for any vice. Take Albert Einstien. Turns out the Nobel-prize winning physics guru was also an advocate for messy desks. You’ve heard the maxim, “A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind”?
Well, apparently Einstein countered, “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
There is no end to the arguments about the best way to work and study to achieve maximum productivity. Some say that absolute silence, at a desk, is required; others would rather listen to the Motley Crue while lounging on the couch.
Malcolm Gladwell,* the author behind Outliers, among others, once wrote about the “Looking for method in the mess” – specifically, the mess that accumulates in piles of random paper on desks. Like Einstein, Gladwell makes the point that these piles aren’t a bad thing, and describes it as a method of organizing. He wrote, “What we see when we look at the piles on our desks is, in a sense, the contents of our brains.”
But he also found that once paper is no longer active, it should be stored electronically, and the paper version tossed. So keep your piles, but not for long. Here, a few things that worked for me:
- Chuck it. I was once told that if you’ve had a to-do item in your pile for three months, you aren’t going to do it, but every time you sit down at your desk you’ll bad about it. So junk it or file it. Because if you haven’t done it yet, it must not be that important. If it is, do it. Now.
- Swap piles for notebooks. One surefire way of keeping random scraps of paper from taking over your work area? Find a way for temporary, random stuff. I have one big notebook with built-in folders. If I print something I decide will be useful, it goes in a folder. The rest: saved on my computer and chucked.
- Get rid of sticky notes. They are chaotic and ugly. Get them off your computer monitor by putting them in a notebook, or, better yet, figure out a system for storing notes electronically. Your email or calendar program may have a “notes” option.
- Put pictures up. They’ll remind you of the grief your friends and relations will heap on you if you don’t get stuff done. Alternatively, try a plant, a nice desk lamp or a paperweight that makes you happy. If you do something to make your work space pleasurable, you’re more likely to spend time there.
*Gladwell, by the way, says he’s the type who works on a laptop on the couch.