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Clean Desk or Messy Desk? Depends on What Your Goals Are

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD | Last updated on

A recent article in The New York Times Magazine discussed a University of Minnesota study that researched the effect of clean, versus messy, working environments.

The study had two interesting findings: First, people who worked in organized, tidy environments were more likely to opt for healthier options. The second finding was more surprising; in spite of the broken windows theory, those who worked in messy environments came up with more creative solutions to problems.

So, where does your desk fall in the scale of clean to cluttered? And, based on this study, should you clean up your act, or mess it up? The answer depends on your goals.

The Case for a Clean Desk

If you are looking to achieve order in your life, establish routines, and adopt a healthy lifestyle, then a clean desk may be for you. The study found that people who work in clean offices tend to be "organized and predictable, typically eat better and live longer than people who are disorderly," reports The Times Magazine.

The Case for a Messy Desk

If you are looking for new approaches to problems such as a nuanced legal argument, or a creative solution to drafting a business deal, then let the clutter take over. According to one of the authors of the study: "Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition ... which can produce fresh insights," reports The Times Magazine.

A Happy Medium

What type of desk is right for you? We say both. If your office layout permits, consider having two workspaces: a clean one and a messy one. You can use the clean space to meet with clients or colleagues, and work on daily tasks, while the messy area can be for brainstorming sessions.

If your office has conference rooms, consider using those as a second space. If you don't have access to a conference room, consider having two desks in your office, or a small table in addition to your desk. Then you can divide the type of work you do at each station depending on your goal -- organization or creativity. In this instance, your work may literally be a product of your environment.

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