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Study: organized desks dramatically improve productivity, focus

If you’re a “messy desk” person, you probably have a “system,” but if you need to improve your productivity, this study proves that it’s a good place to start.

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Is desk chaos good or bad?

Studies have shown that a messy desk encourages creativity. You’re more apt to find more solutions for problems when you’re not as concerned about structure and neatness.

It may be comforting to work in chaos, and disorder may project the impression that you’re working hard.

You don’t have to worry about keeping order when everything is already disheveled. That’s not to say that a tidy desk doesn’t have its place.

Experiment offers new insight

In an experiment by Boyoun (Grace) Chae and Rui (Juliet) Zhu, 100 undergraduates were exposed to one of two environments. The first was a cluttered office with cups and boxes strewn around. The other was a neat and tidy desk.

After exposure, the students were asked to do a task that was described to them as “challenging.” However, the task was actually unsolvable. The students had to retrace a geometric figure without retracing their lines or lifting the pencil from the paper.

The students who were exposed to the neat office stuck with the problem for an average of 18 minutes, compared to the ones who saw the messy desk who only worked on the task for about 11 minutes on average.

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Chae and Zhu were able to produce similar results with other experiments.

It’s time to clean up!

This demonstrates that when you have to get the job done, it’s time to clean up. A messy desk is an obstacle to persistence. Chae and Zhu speculate that when your work environment is untidy, it depletes your mental resources. A mess is a threat to your personal control. When the messiness is a product of your own design, it may be even more overwhelming. It is evidence of your lack of control.

Letting your desk get messy isn’t a bad thing, but don’t let it get so bad that you can’t tidy up when you need to buckle down and complete a project.

Before you go home, straighten up so that when you come in the next day you have a fresh start. Give everything on your desk a place. Limit yourself to two or three personal items, and only keep out the files that you are working on. We’ve known for a long time that organization is key to productivity. Now, it may be key to persistence and self-regulation.


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Dawn Brotherton is a Sr. Staff Writer at The American Genius with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an experienced business writer with over 10 years of experience in SEO and content creation. Since 2017, she has earned $60K+ in grant writing for a local community center, which assists disadvantaged adults in the area.



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  14. Victoria Addington

    October 15, 2020 at 9:31 am

    I agree with what you said that organization helps a person become more productive. Since you mentioned that more people become productive when they have a clean study desk compared to a messy one, I shall then tell my kids to organize their things first when they study since it affects their productivity. Perhaps, I shall then choose a desk that is large enough to carry their school supplies.

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