The Great Debate
People with tidy workspaces are more persistent than their messy peers according to a study by the Harvard Business Review. It may seem that a cluttered desk might make you appear as if you’re working harder, but you could be undermining your own ability to stick to a task. Two groups of students were placed in two different offices, one clean and orderly and the other cluttered and chaotic. The students in the clean office stuck to the directed task for on average 1.5 times longer than the other group. So perhaps your colleague with the empty desk is on to something. When you limit your distractions, you end up getting work done.
But what about the opposite? Does clutter spark creativity? As it turns out, individuals placed in a messy room generated more ideas than those in a tidy room according to a recent study by the Association for Psychological Science. The ideas generated were also deemed more interesting according to neutral judges. Scientist Kathleen Vohs also found that disorderly environments encourage freedom from tradition, which can lead to fresh insights.
So which is true? Perhaps both approaches are true simultaneously, lending credence to the concept of ‘clutter styles.’ Whatever the case may be, a tidy desk or a cluttered one, it’s important to understand in which environment you work best, and then take steps to develop a system around it. By recognizing your clutter style, you can identify what you need to do to optimize your productivity. If your piles of papers and books keep you comfortable, then make a space for them. If you need a tidy environment to keep those ideas flowing it’s best to keep those papers and books on the shelf where they belong.
Something to Agree On – Phones Away
As it turns out the presence of your smartphone may occupy some of your limited-capacity cognitive resources which leaves less room for other cognitive processing. If your phone is on the table you could be paying attention to it even when it’s not ringing, and this is preventing you from focusing on the task at hand. The research by Adrian Ward et al. transcends the tidy versus messy debate; putting your phone away is something everyone can do to better stick to the task at hand.
Whether your productivity is enhanced by a bit of chaos in your environment or you’d rather keep a neat desk to stay focused, it’s best to understand how your workspace contributes to your overall productivity. Furthermore, keeping that phone out of sight is a surefire way to gain a little more focus.