Your Messy Desk May Be a Good Thing

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Struggling to keep your office space clean and organized? Maybe you don’t need to.

Research shows that a disorganized, messy work space can foster creativity.

Earlier this month, Kathleen Vohs – a University of Minnesota marketing professor and consumer psychologist, presented her work linking disorganized work spaces to creativity at the Yale School of Management’s Art, Mind + Markets conference, Inc.com said.

Vohs and her colleagues have researched the impact of visual order on creativity time and time again and the results are the same. She described her work in a New York Times article. Vohs’ experiment involved assigning research participants to either a messy or clean room and then asking them to think of as many new uses for Ping-Pong balls as possible. The results?

The messy-room subjects were more creative, as we expected. Not only were their ideas 28 percent more creative on average, but when we analyzed the ideas that judges scored as “highly creative,” we found a remarkable boost from being in the messy room — these subjects came up with almost five times the number of highly creative responses as did their tidy-room counterparts.

So should everyone stop tidying up their work space in hopes of fostering creativity? No. Both neat and messy spaces have their place in work settings. Vohs told Inc.com that “a setting with visual disorder might facilitate brainstorming, while an orderly setting might be better for a fast meeting where an immediate decision is required.”

Although I strive to keep an organized desk space, I don’t always succeed. I find myself distracted when I’m surrounded by mess. But after reading about Vohs’ research, maybe I’ll try and embrace the clutter. After all, it was Einstein who said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Hmm.

How about you? Do you keep a clean or messy office space? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Jcatz4

    I don’t have an office space outside of my home because I am retired but I must be very creative here at home. Not very organized here at home. When I did work, I was very organized. If I hadn’t been organized at my work, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my tasks on time. Of course, I guess that can also work against you. The last job I had I was laid off (a little unexpectedly) because work was slow and I was so organized that I ran out of work to do. I asked my office manager for something to do and she replied that she didn’t have anything to do either. The next day I was laid off. My work could have been stretched out a bit if I hadn’t been so organized.

  • Michael Smiley Gawthrop

    This can be a double edged sword… if you work in an industry where creativity is not valued and actually discouraged (creative accounting is not normally used in a positive way), then orderly and clutter free is definitely the way to go.