Trash Can designed by Clayton Meador from the Noun Project

Trash Can designed by Clayton Meador from the Noun Project

New research has shown that having a messy desk can help promote creativity. But before you go mess up your work desk even more, consider the opposite impact: having a clean desk has on your ability to be productive. Over on Forbes, David Burkus explains when it makes sense to have a messy desk and when to keep it spotless:

…being in an orderly environment influences us to conform to the conventional expectations set for us. However, being in a messy room helps us depart from those conventions and unlock more divergent thinking…We are more influenced by our environment than we might initially suspect.

We can learn to structure environments to suit our goals and help use more effectively achieve those goals. If you’re trying to bring some more order, healthier choices, and a more generous perspective into your life, then maybe you should start by cleaning up your office and home. However, if you need a creative insight or breakthrough idea, that same tidy office could be stifling your creative thinking.

Burkus dives into an often ignored attribute of the recent research on how our immediate work environment influences our ability to not only be creative, but to be productive. As he explains: if you’re hoping to get a spark of creative insight while you work, having stacks of used paper or various trinkets on your desk can help. However, if you’re looking to dial-in your work and focus, cleaning up your desk would be more beneficial.

Look at which part of the creative process you’re in, then consider how your work environment is helping or hindering what needs to be done. But before you do, head over to Forbes to read all of Burkus’ advice on the subject.

  • Jeffrey

    And studies also prove that having a well organized desk promotes flowing of energies and therefore creativity.

  • Jeffrey

    My point is that “studies” are pointless and do nothing but fill the world up with contrasting arguments that do nothing to really forward the culture and it’s creativity. Go mess up your desk if it makes you feel better. I personally like mine when it’s all organized, and then I mess it up while I’m working. 🙂

    • tannerc

      You’re absolutely right, and this is something I’ve written about quite a bit before: you have to find what works for you.

      Though I’m still curious as to what studies you’re referring to in your original comment, I can’t find any with an opposing view.

  • Lauren Lucas

    I can totally relate to this. There’s something about keeping my workspace slightly unorganized (organized chaos) that helps keep my mind messy for creativity. Great post!

  • Norman Ridenour

    Years ago in California I had an annual studio open house / exhibit. Clean, put away, organize and then THE EVENT. Monday morning, in the tidy, clean space I was frozen, I could not work. Even after the art was back is storage and the space was empty again I could not get out materials or tools. It took 3-4 days to slowly rebuild my ‘mess’.

  • John

    Creatives are messy by nature, and therefore their desks too.

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