The Psychology Behind Messy Desks

What is it exactly about my desk? There are so many views and opinions of a messy desk – either I’m a genius or just a slob. So which is it? We’ll present to you these 2 viewpoints and we’ll let you ponder about it.

Team Slob

You’re just lazy. There’s simply no excuse for your messy desk. This point is quite self-explanatory. If you’re lazy, you wouldn’t want to clean up your desk. Hence, leaving the mess to pile on top of each other.

Team Genius

Messy desk? You’re a genius. Why? The logic here is that busy, smart and successful people don’t have the time to reorganize and tidy their desks. On the other hand, those who are lazy, free and choose to use their time to tidy their desks instead of doing productive work. Mark Twain. Steve Jobs. Albert Einstein. Thomas Edison. Other than being successful and credited as geniuses, they all had messy tables together. So maybe this correlation could be an indication of you being a genius in the making.

Messy Table - Photo: Diana Walker
Photo: Diana Walker

Beyond the similarities to well-known geniuses, studies have actually shown that having a messier table is highly correlated with creativity. In an experiment done by researchers at the University of Minnesota, people with messier desks came up with the same number of ideas as people who had tidy desks. The defining note here is that people with messier desks came up with ideas that were more creative, original and genuinely interesting.

Dr. Vohs, from the University of Minnesota, states that “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.” Does this mean that creating a mess at your table will help you be more creative? We don’t suggest you work with a cluttered table cause it’ll be hard for you to find that important document that your boss needs urgently. Rather, next time, when you’re working on a project that requires your input and ideas, I guess it wouldn’t harm to have a little mess. 

So should you have a tidy or messy desk? According to researchers at the University of Minnesota, each has its own benefits. Working at a clean and tidy table promotes healthy eating, generosity and a clearer mind. As a result, it allows you to be more organized and productive. On the other hand, working at a messy table breaks the conventional methods of thinking. This allows you to think out of the box. Hence, coming up with new, original and creative ideas. In fact, the way our tables are organized can be quite telling of our personalities. We’re no experts here but here’s an article by Business Insider Singapore. Compare your desk to the several desks and see what the psychologist says about your table and your personality.

Messy or Neat Desks
Credit: Business Insider Singapore

Let’s just leave you with this quote from Albert Einstein – “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”


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