Back To Career News

Have a Messy Desk? You’re in Great Company

Topics: Work Culture

Do you have a messy office? Maybe your co-workers laugh about it a little when they pass by, but you assure them that you can “find anything in a matter of seconds” despite the way things look. Do you sometimes find yourself wondering how or why others manage to keep their spaces so tidy? If you have a messy desk, don’t fret. It’s not as bad a sign as you, or others, might think. Here are a few things you should know.


(Photo Credit: F. Schmutzer/Wikimedia Commons)

1. Lots of successful people have wildly messy desks.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

If you keep a messy workspace, then you’re in good company. Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs all had notoriously disorganized desks. These free-thinking visionaries, and others like them, could see their own order through the apparent chaos that surrounded them.

They certainly managed to get their work done, despite their habits, so clearly their systems worked for them. If you really believe that yours is working for you, maybe you’re right. As long as you really do know where everything is, there’s really nothing to worry about.

However, if you have lost control of the piles and files, take some time to tidy up. Be honest about whether or not your system truly is working well for you. If it’s not, take control of the situation. If it is, there’s really nothing wrong with your apparently messy workspace. You certainly aren’t the first person to successfully run their day from the helm of a messy desk, and you won’t be the last either.

2. It could be a sign you’re more creative.

Some recent research has shown that people with messy desks actually might be more creative than people with clean and organized ones. A study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that people who kept messier desks were more prone to risk-taking and creativity than others.

In one featured experiment, folks with organized desks were found to more reliably choose apples over candy bars and more established solutions over new ones. In fairness, these findings could also lead researchers to the conclusion that workers who are more organized are prone to making safer choices, and they might also be more self-protective or even productive. But, if it’s creativity you’re after, look to those with the messy desks.

3. Plus, organization also comes with its drawbacks.

The thing about keeping a neat workspace (as anyone with a messy one can tell you) is that it actually is pretty time-consuming. Instead of spending that time tidying up, creative messy-desk folks keep the ideas flowing. Eric Abrahamson, Columbia Business School professor, notes that it’s important to factor in these opportunity costs when calculating the benefits and drawbacks of organization.

“Creativity is spurred when things that we tend not to organize in the same category come together,” Abrahamson said. “When you allow some messiness into a system, new combinations can result. If you keep all your tools in the tool shed and all your kitchen utensils in the kitchen, you might never think of using a kitchen utensil as a tool or vice-versa.”

4. Despite all this, it can give a not-so-great professional impression.

In spite of all this evidence, unless you’ve already won an excellent reputation around your office, your messy desk could be making a negative statement about your professionalism. Even if you have already proven that you’re a rock star at your job, your co-workers, clients, and others who encounter your space will likely make some judgments or think some not-so-great thoughts when they pass by. It might be worth it to try to keep things in check to some extent.

Still though, your workspace should be set up in the way that truly is best for you. What looks chaotic to others might make perfect organizational sense to you. If that’s the case, great. Just be sure to be honest with yourself about when the mess is working for you and when it’s working against you, and work in a little tidying-up time as needed along the way.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a messy desk? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

2 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
ThangabaluLTD Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

With regard to the comments on your site: I am appalled by the errors in peoples’ comments. Spelling errors; no commas; incomplete thoughts; no periods. In general, sentences – for the most part – that make no sense or are hard to read. Maybe you should ask people to “proof” their replies before they hit “submit”. This is the third article on your site that I have read and frankly, all of the comments have given me a headache. Thanks… Read more »


Diploma civicivil engineering ((1year experience)

What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.