Do you have a Messy Desk?: being a scholar with a balanced life

by Anna Blanch on August 17, 2008

I take the liberty, on occasion, to head down a bumpy track – a questionably relevant path. This is one such occasion….

There is lots of debate about whether a messy desk is a good or bad thing, articles, books, dissertations and blogs have been written musing on what it says about your mind, your mental health, your intelligence or whether it even matters at all.

According to Jay Brand, who has the very cool job title of “cognitive” engineer, because i like to have, and generally do have, a neat desk I don’t have an ordered mind. Carol Smith’s now quite ‘old’, 1999, article addresses Brand’s research which argues that a a neat desk may not mean an employee is productive. However, Smith doesn’t address the difference between a neat desk covered in piles and empty one.

Personally, I am far from having an empty desk – it is just very organised! I work best in uncluttered, but not minimalist spaces. I like to have some inspiration around. It would be best if I had a window overlooking a magnificent vista of the french alps, but alas i am not so lucky! Instead i make do with frame postcards of favourite paintings, the fruits of my own photographic labors and (fresh) flowers.

Fellow English Academic, Carmen Acevedo Butcher, offers a thought-provoking reflection on her own messy desk and how, for her, it reflects the many blessings in her life and the priorities she holds in balancing all the areas of her life. Acevedo Butcher writes:

Most of all, my piled high and overflowing desk reminded me how much I need prayer. I stared at its tilting mess and thought of the pandemonium that is my daily path. Then I remembered, with some relief, a book manuscript I had just finished on contemplative prayer, by an anonymous monk writing 600 years ago in England.

Carmen Acevedo Butcher writes poignantly about how her need to clean her messy desk reflected her need to control her environment and ultimately her need for God to mend that aspect of her soul. I associate with Acevedo Butcher’s sense of helplessness in the attempt of being still on one’s own. But i digress…For those that like to sit on the fence, Jon Reh swears black and blue that having a messy or clean doesn’t matter it is really all about being effective (you can read what Reh says here). For Reh, productiveness is about knowing where everything is and being able to categorise information so that one can retrieve it!

Finally, to encourage those of you with messy desk Kate Lorenz says:

Many new discoveries, inventions and creative projects are the result of sheer happenstance or inadvertently veering off in an unexpected direction. If you don’t inject a little disorder in your life you mostly likely will miss out on the serendipity of an unplanned success.

A messy desk is supposed to help you make unexpected connections. You can read Lorenz’s article here Personally, I find it easy to mind map and brain storm when i don’t have the clutter around. Maybe it is my mind that is the mess, but ordered….?? (is anyone buying that?)

How messy is your desk?


Postscript: This might be taking it a little too far…this desk (not mine) was considered to be so messy that it actually won a messy desk contest.

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