In praise of messy desks

One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries (AA Milne)

The author's desk
The author’s desk

Some of us naturally have tidy desks. Others of us, including myself, do not. And we in the latter camp have traditionally been made to feel inadequate, if not slovenly.

This is, of course, grossly unfair. It has been known anecdotally for many years that messy desk owners can locate known items just as quickly as tidy desk people, as well as having the advantage of always being surprised by new things and new connections. But still the stigma has persisted.

Now, at last, the balance is being redressed. Loughborough University researchers have established that a messy desk represents a sophisticated approach to information storage and retrieval, which offers lessons for digital retrieval systems.

The author's other desk
The author’s other desk

Furthermore, a recent study from the Minnesota Carlson School of Management showed that a disordered environment produced more creativity than one with excessive order, the latter merely promoting generosity and healthy choices. This is confirmed by researchers at NorthWestern University, who find that a messy environment is more conducive to some types of problem solving than an orderly one.

So let us have no more criticism of we messy desk people; for were we not right all along?

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign? (Albert Einstein)

One thought on “In praise of messy desks

  1. Yes, I find I often organise by the last time or place that a resource was accessed, which I suppose has similarities to the way computers, and we as humans, organise our own thoughts and memories. I confess to being more of a tidy desk person, although my filing system tends to involve periodically shoving things from my desk onto a ‘recently accessed’ shelf. Until it is full, at which point the recent-access shelf (RAM) gets emptied and its contents bodged onto other shelves (hard disk), put in the loft (offline storage) or passed to the charity shop (disposal, but more likely archive, as my old items rarely sell and can often be seen languishing on the same shelf several years later, ready for me to re-purchase for a few pennies – and add back onto the recently-accessed shelf). A similar system applies for location context. I was reading something in the kitchen. Can’t recall exactly who wrote it, but it was very interesting, and it was in the kitchen…

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