Decluttering your desk (and mind)

23 December 2015 -


New research from OKA reveals tidy desk really does mean tidy mind

Jermaine Haughton

The clean vs. messy workspace debate probably dates as far back as the creation of offices itself. Productivity experts sing the praises of organised working areas, while some leading artists and technologists have argued that a messy desk boosts creativity and problem solving.

Even legendary scientist Albert Einstein has expressed his thoughts on the hot topic, once whimsically remarking, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”

But a new study by luxury furniture retailer OKA has added further fuel to the fire concluding that clear and simple spaces make workers more productive and happier, and actually increase an individual’s chances of achieving and prospering at work.

The comprehensive survey of household and workplace clutter gathered by Britons found that untidy desks is linked to 77% decline in their productivity and a 53% fall in motivation for workers. The impact of messy surroundings was shown to have an emotional impact on the study’s subjects with a 40% drop in happiness.

Workers admit to being embarrassed by 75% or more of their desk being covered in clutter and wasting 4.3 hours a week on searching for papers in a home office, the survey reveals.

Should every office have a clear desk policy?

A definitive aspect of today’s minimalist and paper-free offices is the transition of physical tools such as calculators, notepads and calendars from beside your computer on to your desktop, tablet or smartphone screen in the form of an app or software package. And with different desk management systems operating at some companies, such as hot-desking, there has been an almost organic purging of clutter from the typical modern working environment, accompanied by a narrative that there is a place for everything and everything has its place.

Viewing clutter as very negative and disorganised, publicist Gina Dilusant fromPR Revolution, and her colleague ensure they maintain spotless and organised desks.

"We pride ourselves daily on our desks' appearance, and we do not allow ourselves to get cluttered," Dilusant said. "We feel desk appearance helps our overall work environment as well as the quality of our work because we can remain focused.

“When other desks in the office have things out of place or look dishevelled, it definitely irks us."

Although 45% of respondents stated a desire to clear the waste from their desks, workers also admitted their computer files (36%) and emails (28%) also needed decluttering. Those who opt to take action on their cluttering ways are most likely to maintain their own sanity and give themselves peace of mind according to 69% of respondents, while 38% of people are prompted to change their ways due to the presence of visitors.

Alternatively, some 28% are motivated to declutter due to feeling stressed and out of control, while 23% are sparked into action by new beginnings, such as a new job, home or year.

However, some workers feel a sense of being out of control when their surroundings aren’t neat, according to past studies. People hoard for several psychological reasons. For some individuals, removing items from their workspace is difficult if they carry sentimental meaning. For others, a propensity to hold onto objects is linked to mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

Furthermore, untidy workers who are based in an open-plan office and are visited frequently by colleagues at their desk must be mindful of the affect their clutter will have on others. Interestingly, some 53% of people would think negatively of someone for letting a mess build up, and 28% of employers would think twice before promoting a disorganised team member.

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