The Problem with Clutter


“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” – Albert Einstein

I’m sure we could debate the advantages and disadvantages of clutter. However, in real life terms (leaving Einstein aside) — is erring on the side of less clutter and more organization the best path?

I believe it is. When you work in clutter, co-workers may make negative assumptions — and bosses may worry that you are chronically disorganized.

Moreover, a cluttered state can affect feelings of well-being and productivity.

Research discussed in this article at HBR, examined how persistence was affected by exposure to a neat vs. a messy work environment. The researchers found that subjects exposed to a neat environment worked at a challenging task longer (1.5 times actually), than their counterparts who viewed the messier desk.

As the article explains, when our resources are drained by distraction, our performance can suffer. This can affect how we tackle a challenging task. Of course, there has been evidence in favor of a bit of mess to encourage creativity. However, definitive research is in order.

A cluttered mind is an entirely different challenge. If you tend to get lost among your many thoughts and have difficulty zeroing in on what is most important — a strategy is vital. In, many cases this can be resolved by tweaking your power of focus. (It is a noisy world and we  “self distract”.) See one technique here and the supporting book below.

Here are a couple of other clutter busting books to explore. If you’re chronic messy-aholic in the office, start small. Discard papers. Develop a system to retrieve what remains. Remember to give things some time — so you can settle into any change. If you are simply fine-tuning your organization skills, let us know what you learned and how you amped-up your game.

Banishing Physical Clutter:

The life-changing magic of tidying up: The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing*
This book delves into when and why you should let some things go. Enough said.

Taming Our Cluttered Minds:

i Disorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less*
Focus is critical in a noisy world.

*This denotes an affiliate link. I often receive emails about suggestions for topic-focused books and products. These links make things quite simple. Purchase or explore as you wish.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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