imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

People with cluttered desks genius?

Many years ago, I had a co-teacher by the name of Liza. We were then occupying a long desk where we did all our preparations prior to going to the classes were assigned to teach the whole school year.

One afternoon, I arrived on my table with Liza and another teacher arguing.

“All your stuffs are scattered all over the table, leaving us no space to work. Will you please fix your things?” Teacher Alice said.

“Of course, you don’t need to remind me. I’ll do it now,” Liza replied, apparently irked.

Their conversation grew more intense.

By then, it was US-Iraq war in the Middle East. I was then refereeing for a school sports activity and I had with me my whistle, hanging on my chest. I whistled as if a fire had broke out.

“Hello girls, it’s US-Iraq war now in the Middle East, we don’t need another war here in school!”

The two teachers stopped arguing, so I made some comedy acts to ease the tension further.

Liza had long migrated to Italy and Teacher Alice is about to retire. The long table we used to share had long been gone. We now have our own individual table.

Is your table as messy as Liza’s fellas?

Then, no need to worry. You are neither paranoid nor messy.

My research on messy table goes like this:

The desk was invented around 1200 CE, and while the technology upon it has evolved, the desk itself has remained the same: a flat-surfaced work area accompanied by drawers and cubbies for storage.

Today’s efficiency experts insist that people are more productive when their desk is uncluttered, with “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

However, the notion that a clean desk makes you more productive is an absurd baloney.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota recently tested how well students came up with new ideas when working in orderly versus disorderly work areas.

The study showed:

“Participants in the messy room generated the same number of ideas for new uses as their clean-room counterparts. But their ideas were rated as more interesting and creative when evaluated by impartial judges.”

This connection between a messy desk and productivity is often missed because few people consider the cost of neatness, according to Eric Abrahamson.

David H. Freedman, author of A Perfect Mess writes: “That messiness and disorder can be so useful wouldn’t seem such a counter-intuitive notion if it weren’t for the bias towards neatness programmed into most of us. Specifically, people tend to ignore the cost of neatness, discount the possibility that messiness can’t always be excised no matter how hard it’s fought and trust the idea that mess can work better than neatness.”

Geniuses have something better to do than futzing around with filing systems, electronic or otherwise.

The notion that a clean desk means a productive worker is an artifact of the mid-20th century. Historically, geniuses were always pictured with a cluttered desk, as in this 19th-century portrayal by Samuel Johnson:

“Back in the days, a clean desk was considered a sign of slothful laziness. Busy people, and smart people didn’t have time to straighten up. Mark Twain, for example, chose to leave his desk cluttered whenever he was photographed.”

Albert Einstein famously pointed out: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Thomas Edison, who had a famously messy desk, must have agreed.

My research led me further to the day Einstein died: On the day Einstein died, Time photographer Ralph Morse shunned the crowds of reporters and other photojournalists gathered at Princeton Hospital and instead found his way to Einstein’s office at the Institute of Advanced Studies.

He snapped a single picture of the legacy of the world’s greatest mind. What that picture showed chaos. Not an inch of Einstein’s desk was free of paper. Books, manuscripts, magazines, and envelopes were everywhere (alone with what looked like a cookie jar). The same went true for the shelves. One shelf held neatly arrayed journals, but elsewhere were piles and piles of papers. It’s a mess, and he liked it
that way.

Paper files, newspaper clippings, torn pages from last month’s issue of the magazine, a few sticky notes, writing pad and a pen along with an empty cup of coffee is a kind of mess that messy people can easily relate to, because only an organizer knows what meaning he gets from those things.

“It’s not mess, basically its reference, sign, hint, ideas and above all its motivation to keep going”, said Aliah, a creative artist, while discussing this topic with me.

LinkedIn’s Arzoona Khalid says: “Well, let me put it this way – have you ever noticed a painter/artist painting a picture? If yes, you might have noticed his scattered brushes, paints, pencils and other tools all over his place – why? Because all those supplies help him in getting the best out of his creativity, they remind him what can be used to make a picture look better and he doesn’t have to take a pause to find out where are the paints or the brush he needs. This saves him from disturbance and interruption that might come in his way to creativity, otherwise.

A Canva blog concludes: Don’t worry about what other think of your desk and instead thrive on the mess to try and stay more creative. Allow the mess to pile up a bit and spend that time constructively on creative tasks instead. You might become overwhelmed by the disorder, in which that is the time to cut back, but if you are trying to achieve a perfectly clean desk, with no clutter, no mementos, no personality, you are also creating an environment with no creativity. Allow your inner messiness to show itself and you might find your brain starts to have a whole lot of better ideas.

So if your work area, like mine, is usually a mess, it’s time to stop apologizing and start feeling good about our ability to prioritize.

Therefore, clutter more, mess more and think more.

Like a genius, fellas! ●