What Your Desk Says About You

untidy deskWould you consider yourself a productive person? Before you read any further, please take a good look at your work desk. What is on it? Is it covered with piles of files and paper work? Or is it neat and tidy? If your desk isn’t always neat and tidy does it really matter? Some recent research suggests it does.

Sir Gary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the Manchester Business School, analysed the results of a survey from more than 2000 office workers.

73% of managers said they equated a cluttered, untidy workspace with someone who was disorganised and 27% equated it with someone who was struggling to keep up with their workload. 10% of managers said that having a messy desk space was on a par with having a poor personal appearance and so would lead them to overlook such a “messy” person for promotion.

It is therefore disturbing that 1 in 3 of the office workers surveyed admitted that they routinely had a messy and disorganised desk. Do you?

What is even worse than being overlooked for possible promotion is the negative impact on your personal productivity. In the survey 40% of those who had a messy workspace said it makes them less productive and 31% said it increased their stress levels. 49% said it affected how they felt about going into work every day.

And it’s not just your personal productivity that is affected by having an untidy desk. In the survey nearly one in four respondents said that their productivity was being adversely affected by the messy work space of their colleagues.

But it’s not all bad news… the younger generation often receive a bad press about their working habits, yet in this survey the millennial generation actually had the highest proportion of tidy desks.

So why can’t everyone keep their workspace tidy? Certainly some modern working practices are making it harder to do. Hot desking, working from home for part of the time and open plan offices have all been reported as having a significant negative effect on some peoples’ ability to keep things tidy and well-organised. But there are still some simple things we can all do to help ourselves.

First, recognise that to gain control of an untidy desk you will need to put aside some time to tidy it and then get into a routine to keep things well-organised. Adapt the following 10 minute a day personal work habits so they work for you:

On Monday de-clutter your work space. Start by removing all obvious rubbish, outdated or expired materials and unnecessary duplicates. Get rid of those useless souvenirs you collected from that last visit to a conference or was given to you by a sales rep. Thin out the supplies you keep close at hand. For example, do you really need 20 pens in your pen pot and 4 half used packs of post-it notes? Make it your aim to remove at least one of these unnecessary item from your desk every week.

On Tuesday take an inventory. Review the things you use on a daily basis. If you don’t use it on a daily basis then either put it away in a drawer or - better - get rid of it.

On Wednesday do a methods audit. Take ten minutes to review the methodology you use to do the work you do. Make small changes to streamline how you do the routine things.

Thursday is the day to purge your computer by deleting or archiving all unwanted files and folders. You can also purge your paper files and folders of any unneeded paperwork.

And finally Friday is tidy-up day. This is the time to put things back where they belong so you can start on Monday with an organised work space.

By keeping on top of your work space you will not only create a good impression of yourself with your boss and your colleagues, but will also be more productive and less stressed.