GoalsOnTrack Blog

A systematic approach to achieving goals and getting results.

A Messy Desk is the Sign of a Messy Desk

By David B. Bohl

Did you know that major office supply stores now carry supplies to help you ‘pile’? They now provide you with items that allow you to gather items for one project and ‘pile’ them all together in an envelope or folder for easier access. I know a lot about being too busy. I also know a lot about busy work, and the latter, for many people, often includes trying to keep a spotless desk. I personally think it all comes down to our priorities and what they are. I was amused recently to see that one of the major office supply stores now carries not only filing supplies but also, believe it or not, “piling” supplies. These consist mainly of plastic envelopes and folders where you can put everything regarding one project together and leave them on your desk. I haven’t talked to anyone who uses them, but I find it interesting that someone is finally noticing that we don’t always even want to keep our desks clear.

On the surface, this is a recognition that some people like to stack things on their desks where they can find them more easily. Some people are more visual and don’t work well with file drawers because they don’t know what they have.

But what’s really going on here is that maybe, and just maybe, we’re getting away from the notion that in order to have a “healthy,” balanced life, we have to have a spotless desk, because if we’re too busy to clear off our desks, we’re too busy.

I know a lot about being too busy. I also know a lot about busy work, and the latter, for many people, often includes trying to keep a spotless desk.

It all comes down to what our priorities are. If we’re really interested in living a balanced life, in taking care of the important things in our lives and letting other things go, then we have a choice about our desk.

Let’s say I work best when the only thing on my desk is a notepad and a pen. I don’t, but let’s say for a moment that I do. Then spending a few minutes each day to organize and straighten my desk is time spent in keeping my life in balance and reaching my desired state of cleanliness on my desk.

On the other hand, if I work best with files on one corner of my desk, books on another, and papers I’m working with right in front of me, then spending a lot of time trying to keep my desk “clean” are misguided. What I need to do is keep my desk in the condition I want it, and realize what I want.

Realizing what I want is a major part of having a balanced, fulfilling life, because if I’m spending a lot of time chasing someone else’s goals, like a clean desk, then I’m not actively pursuing my own goals and living my own life.

You always hear that a messy desk is a sign of a disorganized mind, or something to that effect. I recently read in a time management book that “a messy desk is a sign of a messy desk,” and I found that so reassuring. I have long thought the emphasis on a clean desk was overdone, but the more I see people worrying about their desks and letting that determine how they live, the more I realize that a messy desk is not a sign of anything.

How can you let go of trying to keep a clean desk, and focus on a balanced life?

  • Decide how you want your desk to look.
  • Spend a little time now arranging your desk.
  • Do a ten-second tidy of your desk a couple of times a day, just quickly putting things back the way you like them or putting things away.

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