Sunday, September 09, 2012

Why I am cleaning my desk?

I admit it I have a messy desk at work.  It isn’t the messiest desk at my company – my manager’s desk is much, much worse, but it is definitely messy.  What is this mess made up of?  Uncompleted work.   As I work my way through my in-box anything that requires a fair amount of investigation and isn’t immediately pressing ends up in a stack on my desk.  I don’t file this paperwork because it doesn’t need to be filed it needs to be completed.

Why has my messy desk suddenly become a problem?

It projects a bad image:
According to Penelope Trunk in her book Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success Brazen Careerist:

If your desk is a mess you look overwhelmed and less competent. People with messy offices are perceived as less efficient, less organized and less imaginative than people with clean desks. (Pg. 161)
The owners of our company aren’t too concerned about our mess because we always get our work done, but it does look bad to outsiders.  I have heard more than one person make a comment about my boss’s messy desk including our banker who is clearly someone we need to impress.  My co-workers also make comments about my boss losing their paperwork.  When he isn’t around they sneak into his office and search for missing items.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens when I am not around as well.  I have also had outsiders make comments about my desk.

I am inefficient:
How could I not be?  I lose things. If someone puts a piece of paper on top of one of my stacks then someone else puts another piece on top of that one the original paper is sure to be buried. Also, when I need a clear work place I scoop up stacks of papers and move them sometimes mixing projects together. Then I waste valuable time searching for missing paperwork.  I also lose my stapler, letter opener, ruler and favorite pen frequently.  

My messy desk causes stress:
I am tired of working in this environment.  My mess is a constant reminder of how far behind I am.  One of my employees loves to remind me of things I haven’t completed.  When she does this I just point to one of my piles and say yeah I haven’t gotten to it yet. 

Be Strong challenge #2: Clean my desk
As part of my Be Strong project I am challenging myself to clean my desk.  Each week I need to complete one or two of the outstanding projects on my desk. I actually started this a couple of weeks ago and have made some progress.  Each completed project empowers me and reduces my stress a little bit.  I am also making an extra effort not to add more paper to my piles. Spending just an extra ten minutes with my mail each day seems to make a difference and will surely save me a lot of aggravation down the road.
How about you?  Do you have a messy or clean desk?  Does having a messy desk bother you or bog you down?


  1. A journalist at a newsroom I once worked in used to be barely visible over his old yellowing stacks of newspapers, all over his workspace. My desk is not quite that bad but it's definitely among the worst at my office. We recently moved desks which prompted a bit of a tidyup but I'm terrible at letting things pike up! It's like my house - anything that comes is is likely to get plopped down somewhere and never leave.

  2. I like to spend the last hour on friday straightening up. Once you get the initial big clean up done, maybe you can do that. It makes mondays so much nicer - tocome in to something relatively ready to start new. Good luck. It's a process...

  3. I have a pretty cluttered desk myself. I hold on to a lot of papers because I think that, at some point, they might come in useful for a story or something and I don't want to get rid of them. But it's so cluttered that they just get lost and therefore aren't useful.

  4. That picture horrifies me! I have a very, very clean desk. I can't work with papers strewn about like that. I get comments that people feel I am not busy when there is nothing on my desk. My response is that I am very efficient and good at what I do that I don't need clutter. Yet, some people wouldn't be able to work in a similar environment. I say that it shouldn't matter what a desk looks like as long as the work is done. Now, that being said, if you meet with clients or other company stakeholders frequently, your desk better be clean as you are a face of the company and want to appear competent and efficient. Anyway, that's my two cents!

  5. Savvy, I confess that I am a clean freak. The thought of a messy anything makes me break out in hives. I've always likened an out of control room to an out of control mind and so, I dutifully have a place for everything. I find this prevents me from wasting precious time searching for things and keeps me stress free. I loved the photo featured in this post. It really brings the message home! :)

  6. I totally agree with the point from Penelope Trunk's book!

  7. eemusings,
    I once worked with a woman whose desk was so messy they had her move desks just so she'd be forced to clean it. She showed them. She just took what she was working on and left her mess. Then she had two messy desks. I have a neat husband so my house isn't too bad. Plus, every time I entertain I spend time organizing.

  8. Webb,
    That is exactly what I did last week - spent the last hour of Friday cleaning. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to have a semi-clean desk on Monday. Started the week off right. I do notice I am not hitting my deadlines as easily when I work from a clean the desk point of view. I would like to keep it up though. I hate having all those uncompleted tasks hanging over my head.

  9. Kim,
    I have a huge collection of papers as well. When I took the strength finder test I was shocked to discover I was a collector. Who knew my articles and books lists were considered collections. I now make an effort to pin articles, books and recipes to Pinterest, favorite them on twitter and save them to my hard drive. I also link to some of my favorite book lists on my blog. It is much easier to find them when I was them later than try to find a paper copy.

  10. Michelle,
    I have to admit at its worst my desk was that messy, though the piles were never that high. The piles were higher on my boss's desk (surprisingly he went in last Saturday and organized it). I had thought about taking a picture of his desk, but my luck the photo would have gone viral.

    You are correct, Penelope also wrote people do perceive a clean desk to mean an employee doesn’t have enough to do.

    I have often wondered though how you were able to read and review so many books while working full-time and carrying for a family. In addition to all those games and practices you have to attend I now believe your organization plays a huge role.

  11. Bella,
    I am finding it interesting learning who is a clean freak and who is not. I wonder too if procrastinators tend to be messier. Both my boss and I are procrastinators. We are then forced to work on the most pressing project rather than organizing our desk. It is different and a tad out of my comfort zone to tackle things as they come in, but in the long run I well be better off. I certainly don’t need any more stress in my life. I did find the piece of paper I had lost on the last day of August that had prompted this challenge on Friday. Of course I don’t need it anymore. Sigh!

  12. Janine,
    Have you read it? Penelope has several good ideas though Brazen Careerist was written before the recession and some of them do not work in a down job market.

  13. Anonymous10:12 AM

    I have always had a very tidy and organized desk. At school I am known as the go to teacher for organization. :) I like things to have a place of it's own. With so much on our plates these days, I have to be very organized and methodical. It's the only way I can ensure that the hundred things I have to do in a day gets done.

  14. Tami Marie,
    Ah another organizer. Yesterday I worked from clean projects off my desk mode. It was wonderful - I got so much done. So much better than the vicious cycle of procrastinating then worrying. Can't imagine how different my life would have been if I would have started this years ago. Thanks for stopping in.

  15. It sounds to me Savy that your desk is a mess mainly from incomplete work that you have been putting off - more so than useless clutter on your desk.

    My desk is clean. I can't think straight or concentrate in a mess. I tend to file papers in folders in my desk drawer organized by type of task. First thing in the morning I will pull out all the paper work that I need to complete on that day. Not a perfect system but it works for me. And a mail inbox tray on the right side of my desk prevents old and new from being mixed up and everyone knows where to put it.

  16. While my desk at work is spic and span, my desk at home with kids' school papers, bills, unopened mail and things to do looks like this. At work, I am able to keep everything electronically which I love so I don't have to file papers too often. However, I need to get a better system for handling papers that come into the house. I feel like it's always a losing battle. I have tried to get better about touching mail once and filing it immediately but it gets hard to do consistently. But the consequence is eventually I have to spend hours filing and tossing junk mail. ugh! I absolutely love having things organized, I just am not good about keeping it organized or having my hubby/3 boys help me keep it organized!!! This is a great spring cleaning project, good luck with organizing!

  17. Darlene,
    You are correct my mess is incomplete work. After reading your post I realized I sometimes like at items from my inbox then set them on my desk. I've since made an effort to set them back in the inbox. I also spent sometime cleaning again on Friday.

  18. Tanya,
    My mail at home isn't too bad. I usually go through it once a week and toss all the junk mail. My husband handles the bills and is very organized. My desk at home gets out of hand once in awhile with newspaper clippings of blog ideas. Also, I've started handling my Mom's finances and am out of room. So where is her stuff now. In manila envelopes on my desk.

  19. They say a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind. Well, mine must be a very sick mind! LOL! I can't concentrate or work productively if my desk is cluttered, so I only keep what is absolutely necessary within view in my workspace. But hey, to each his or her own! I've had coworkers who couldn't keep their space clear if you paid them, and they knew where every item could be found!

  20. I tend to have a middle of the road desk :) It starts to get messy and then it gets cleaned up when things start to get a little out of hand. Good luck in your Be Strong project, sounds interesting.

  21. Alison,
    My company has finally hired a cleaning lady - our VP's wife. My desk hasn't been this clean in years. I don't want her to think I am a slob. Seriously though when I'm working I am so in the zone it doesn't matter what my desk looks like. When it is cleaner I do tend to keep track of things better though.

  22. Gillian,
    Thanks for the comment.

  23. My desk gets messy because a) I have items I want to keep but I don't know what to do with them and b) (like you), I need to get them done. I worry that if I put them away, I'll forget about them completely in the face of more immediate concerns. So there they sit, bogging me down while I work on other more immediate issues. Must get desk under control. And more importantly, keep it under control. I'd like to develop the habit of putting everything in its place before I leave work at the end of the day. It will be a good thing to start on a Monday - tomorrow.