How to Be More Effective

Which do you believe?

A cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind.


An empty desk is a sign of an empty mind.

I know that I am more effective when my work area only has my active project and related papers on it. I feel energized and ready to get going when I walk up to a neat and clean desk. (That’s true about the kitchen, too. When I walk into the kitchen in the morning and it is cleaned up from last night, it feels refreshing and as though “all is right in the world”) I remember a study (although was looking for the reference without success) that took people and gave them tasks to complete. They were either at a cluttered desk or a clear desk. The study results clearly indicated that the people completed their tasks about 30% (again, was looking for the number without success) faster on a clear desk than a cluttered desk.

So, imagine my surprise when I came across completely different study outcomes as I was searching for that study! A recent study that’s all over the net, tells us that people more easily focus in the midst of chaos and have an easier time simplifying thoughts.

I started this article intending to suggest that you clear the clutter off of your desk and out of your life. Now, I’m thinking that it’s better that you know what works best and then go for it.

One thing is very clear. There are very strong opinions out there about messiness versus neatness. Another study shows that only 17% of HR managers say that the neatness of a desk “does not at all” affect their perception of the level of professionalism of an employee. That means that 83% of HR managers make a judgment of someone’s professionalism based on the neatness of their desk or office.

There is an entire industry devoted to helping people “de-clutter”. That makes me think that there are many people out there that prefer neatness to clutter, and they are willing to pay for help to clear the clutter.

Why does any of this matter to you? I bring it up this week, because I am interested in how you can be more effective. That means that  you need to figure out which group of folks you belong to. Are you more at peace and happier when you walk into a neat office? Does a neat office make you feel empty and move you to create a more “lived-in” look? How often do you find yourself searching for something in your office amidst the clutter?

I know what works for me, and I’m OK with you having a different preference. I’m most interested in having you be certain about what works best for you, and then go and maintain that so that you get more done.

Spend some time this week and feel around inside of yourself for your preferred setting on the “clutter meter”. In other words, figure out whether you like a neat desk or feel better in clutter. Then, go and get it done! And let go of others’ perceptions of you and your effectiveness.

Coach’s Challenge:

Take about 5 minutes or so each day to notice how you feel in your office or at your desk. Focus specifically on how the neatness (or clutter) on your desk makes you feel. Are you relaxed? How often do you think about something that needs to get done because you see it on your desk? How focused can you stay on the task at hand instead of the papers for other tasks lying around?

Once you have a sense for how you feel, then act accordingly. If you want to clear the clutter, then take 5-10 minutes per day to clear something unnecessary off your desk. If you find that you like the clutter, then spend 5-10 minutes per day making sure that everything on your desk is arranged in a way that lets you work on the project at hand.

Have fun!

Suggested Resources:

Here are several websites that focus on tips for organizing and reducing clutter — if that’s your path. I found nothing interesting about how to make more clutter, though!

10 Tips to Beat Clutter…in Less Than 5 Minutes

Resources about Reducing Clutter

Taming the Chaos So You Can Make Your Unique Contribution

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  1. I work better in chaos and always have…whether it is a mess or loud jumpy music. I did my best studying for tests this way and always got A’s.

    Now, I still do better on projects, etc this way. One reason, I believe, is that chaos keeps me centered and the outside world is kept at bay, so I get much more accomplished.

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