The dirty truth about messy offices

For good or bad, people make assumptions about you based on the appearance of your office. If they see a framed picture on your desk of you standing on a beach with two children, they instantly assume you like going to the beach on vacation, you have two kids, and you enjoy being reminded of this vacation while you’re at work. If you have a law school diploma and a state bar association certificate framed and hanging on your office walls, people seeing these items assume you’re a lawyer, who graduated from a specific school, who is legal to practice law in your state.

The previously mentioned examples of the family photo and the diploma both resulted in positive assumptions about you and these items were likely placed in the office to elicit the exact responses they received. The bad side of assumptions based solely on appearances is that people can also come to negative conclusions about you. For example, a consistently messy desk (not one that is disrupted for a few hours each day as you plow through a project, but one that is disorganized, dirty, and cluttered over a prolonged period of time) can hurt you professionally because it gives the impression to your coworkers you’re not a good employee, even if your work product proves otherwise.

On April 13, Businessweek published the article “Clean Your Messy Desk, Lest Ye Be Judged.” The article, as you probably assume based on its title, explains the downsides of having a perpetually messy office. From the article:

… according to a survey of U.S. workers by hiring firm Adecco, 57 percent of people have judged a co-worker based on the state of his or her workspace. A clean desk sends the message that you’re organized and accomplished, while a disheveled one implies that the rest of your life is in a similar state.

Katherine Trezise, the president of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (you may know ICD by its former name, the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) comments on the survey’s findings in the Businessweek article:

Trezise says that a little mess is OK, but that “the problem comes in when it affects other people. Can you do your job? Maintain relationships with colleagues?” If the answer is no, you might need to rethink your habits.

To keep your coworkers from making negative, and probably inaccurate, judgments about your job performance, spend five to ten minutes each day cleaning and straightening your workspace before heading home. Return dirty dishes to the break room, wipe up any spills, process the papers in your inbox, throw away trash, put away current projects to their active file boxes, and set your desk so it is ready for you to work from it immediately when you arrive to your office the next morning. Not only will these simple steps send a positive message to your coworkers, but they will also help you to be more productive. For larger projects, such as waist-high stacks of papers and towers of boxes cluttering up your office, schedule 30 minutes each day to chip away at these piles. Your coworkers will notice your efforts and start to reassess their negative assumptions.

For the rare few of you who work for bosses who believe a messy desk is proof of your competency, I recommend keeping a fake stack of papers on your desk for the purpose of looking disorganized. To create your fake mess: assemble five inches of papers from the office recycling bin and wrap a large rubber band around the stack. The bundling will make the stack of papers simple to pull out of a drawer when you need it to influence your boss, and it will also make sure you don’t get any important papers mixed in with the decoy stack. Think of the stack of papers similar to a potted plant (which, oddly enough, researchers have discovered gives the impression to your coworkers that you’re a team player, so put a single plant in your office if you don’t already have one).

Like most of you, I don’t love that assumptions about job performance are influenced by the appearance of one’s office, but feelings about assumptions aren’t important. If you want a promotion and/or raise, if you want your coworkers and boss to have positive opinions about your work, and you want to give the accurate impression that you value your job and place of employment, then keeping your office organized and clean can’t hurt you in your pursuit of these goals. My opinion is that in this economy you do what you can to keep a job you love, so it’s a good idea to spend the five or ten minutes each day helping yourself in a positive way.

36 Comments for “The dirty truth about messy offices”

  1. posted by Rachael on

    I am a teacher and I know for a FACT that when I go into a teacher’s classroom and it is messy and cluttered and dusty, I judge them. Students cannot learn in that environment and it gives other teachers, administrators, and parents a bad impression. After all, if you cannot manage a classroom how can you manage your class? My room gets quite messy but I make it a point to fully clean/organize every Friday before the following week and I do a quick tidy at the end of everyday. It keeps things in order and ensures a good learning environment for my students.

  2. posted by Diedra B on

    As someone who has worked in a position to handle checks, cash, and credit card numbers, I grew to be intolerant of messes. I was always concerned by the fact I had people’s hard-earned cash in my hands and was loathe to misplace any of it!

    Even if one is overrun with work, it doesn’t mean you can’t be neat about it!

  3. posted by Meg on

    I disagree. My messy desk was actually one of the things that finally helped convince leadership to hire some essential support for our team. It was an ongoing reminder that there was really not enough time for everything, and that some things had to give. I think this is to some extent a debate about priorities. To play off the teaching example, I have a friend who is an award-winning teacher who has been lauded consistently for her ability to inspire her students and for their achievements. Her classroom does look messy to some outsiders. What they do not notice is that a lot of those areas are designed to inspire creativity and learning in her kids. Her priority is learning over absolute order. That being said, there is a difference between messy and gross. There should never be dirty dishes or spills at a workstation!

  4. posted by DawnF on

    “designed to inspire creativity and learning” ~ um, okay…

    I worked with a colleague whose workspace was chaotic, disorderly and on occasion out-of-control. Every time I had to take materials or forms to her I cringed because I knew in my heart the odds of her losing my information was high (both on paper and electronically). Quite often, MY job would be affected by HER disorder. I had to start documenting what I gave her and when I gave her materials to protect myself when she wouldn’t follow through with her responsibilities because of misplaced workpapers.

    My friend likes to describe her home as “lived-in” and a place where “creativity is nurtured” yet she spends most of the time in a tailspin looking for her keys or yelling at her kids to find their shoes or scolding her husband for losing the new insurance ID cards. Yep, sounds like a wonderful place to live and love.

  5. posted by infmom on

    I think some people get hung up on the concept of “tidy.” They think it means that every last little bit of clutter has to be dealt with, one by one by one. And because there isn’t enough time to do that, they do nothing.

    As I put it, it doesn’t have to BE tidy, it just has to LOOK tidy. If worst comes to worst, take the papers and other clutter and stick them in a box. Write the date on the box. Put it away out of sight. If you have not touched the contents of that box in six months, take the whole thing out to the trash.

  6. posted by 1tba on

    Sorry to say, but I find this post rather disappointing. I’ve always understood this blog to be about how uncluttering is done for the sake of itself, and yet has positive effects not only in terms of the immediate feel of being clear, clean and organized, but also in terms of how life gets easier once you stop being messy, and in terms of how letting go of stuff helps you to let go of false beliefs and prejudices. At least I’ve always felt I could read this between the lines of your advice, most of which I’ve found really helpful so far. But now you are suggesting cleaning up for the sake of other people’s prejudices?

    Sorry, but that doesn’t sound well to me. Even worse, you’re connecting other people’s prejudices to success and money. And effectively you are saying “clean up to appear smart if you’re a choatic person, but if you’re boss loves chaos, create one on purpose to please him. After all, personality does not matter when you’re hunting for that extra dollar bill.”

    Disagree! I assume even most bosses, the neat and the chaotic ones, will have had experience with working with different types of people and will well be aware of the fact that each person has their own degree of messiness, which does not necessarily conform to theirs.

    Or in case you’re mirroring your boss’s desk, what if your colleagues might just think you are trying to kiss up to the boss? If you’re concerned with their judgement of your work performance, you wouldn’t really want that to happen, would you?

    Or what if your boss is messy and you’ve been trying to keep up with them and they suddenly wake up one morning thinking “I’ve had an epiphany, all paper stacks must go!”, only you’re on holiday and when you return two weeks later, your boss has had two weeks to be disgusted about the mess on your desk and it is no wonder your performance is not great with a desk like that!

    Or Or Or…there’s thousand of things I could come up with why pretending to be someone you are not in order to be successful isn’t gonna work out eventually. So what I’m trying to say is: Instead of worrying about other people’s assumptions, why don’t you let your work performance speak for itself and tell your judgmental colleagues to … off.

    Please take no offence in what I’m saying, I don’t mean to slag off you or your writing, I simply think that the thoughts this entry is based on, are wrong.

    You “don’t love that assumptions about job performance are influenced by the appearance of one’s office”? Than don’t conform to them. Otherwise there’ll never be an open-minded spirit in your office. Maybe it’s naive but I’ve always believed that if you want things changed, you gotta start changing them. I thought that’s a reason why you have all this great advice on uncluttering and letting go. This advice sounds more like mental cluttering to me.

  7. posted by Rachael on

    Meg, I am not looking for absolute order. I am looking for a management system that works for my students and myself. Cleaning up once a week and tidying at the end of the day hardly creates “absolute order.”

  8. posted by JamieB on

    I work in an architectural and structural design office. My desk is constant and constantly evolving mess, as are the overwhelming majority of my collegues’ desks (and our boss’s desk outdoes them all). There is a perception in our office, and to a certain extent our profession, that if your desk is clean (as in, you can see more desk than paper), you must not be busy enough. If your desk is spotless, watch out!

  9. posted by Jeannette on

    Bravo 1TBA!
    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this, some of which echo my own feelings on reading this post. We do have to let go of stereotypes and our own ideas of “how it should be.”

    I get where the author is coming from, but I hate reinforcing stereotypes. Functional trumps “absolute order.” I’ve seen lovely, decluttered offices that were not functional.

    This reminds me of the whole issue of personal appearance and how it influences people in terms of job hunting, promotions, etc. The better you look or dress, the more professional and personable you are. NOT!

    I am not talking here about the difference between unkempt, unhygienic folks and the rest of us. I’m talking about people who are so busy checking out the brand of your clothing and accessories that they aren’t paying attention to other more important issues (and unless the job is one at a high level and high visibility in fashion, the brands you wear should not be relevant, nor should your physical appearance.)

    Personally, I don’t like messy offices. It’s especially unpleasant in open offices. That said, the only thing that matters when working with or for someone else is their ability to do their job as defined, on-time and on budget. And to not put others at risk on a health or hygiene level.

    I have worked with people whose offices could have been photographed for the cover of a magazine with no notice. I have worked with people whose desks and offices were cluttered beyond belief, but who could, in a second, retrieve anything needed and who were extremely productive.

    It’s easy to allow one’s self to judge and be trapped in stereotypes. But shouldn’t we all be better than that?

    A mess and chaos are not always the same thing. Those folks with the pristine offices? Only a few were truly productive and professional. They spent more time on show, than substance.

    No one should be forced to keep their space either very orderly or messy to impress a boss. And bosses should judge only on the work.

    Exceptions: Hygienic situations where a mess could be a health hazard (as in people who eat at their desks and leave food out, etc. and there are pest issues, etc.) or adversely affect a process undertaken in the area (having food and drinks around a workspace where an actual product is produced that could be destroyed, etc. by a spill, etc.)

    In my perfect world, everyone’s desk is tidy, well-organized and clean. All the time. But I’ve learned that this ideal is not central to the quality of the work produced and does not reflect the skills and abilities to execute of those whose desks differ from my “ideal.”

  10. posted by Louise Moore on

    I have to admit I do agree with the article. When I worked as an intern, my boss always told me that “perception is reality.” If you look like a slob, you’re probably a sloppy worker. If your desk is always a mess, you’re probably disorganized in other fields. I don’t think the author is writing about IF it’s true (having a messy desk means your work must be disorganized), I think she’s just writing….regardless of what works for you….what we see is what we’re going to ASSUME. You will get judged. Fact.

    Anyway, if you are finding that you’re a bit disorganized, I suggest checking out Clipix. It’s a social bookmarking site that has now become the home for my documents/spreadsheets/pdf’s, and anything I come across online that I want to save and come back to.

    Take a moment to think about all the articles online that you want to read…but are too busy to….and then you never see it again.

    Clipix allows you to organize everything you’ve saved in whatever way you want….and keep it all private. Put mutliple boards into one big board, do private group boards with other people for planning/projects….the list goes on.

    This thing has made my life INFINITELY better, so I figured it’d be perfect to share with all of you!

  11. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    1TB — Assuming the final work product is the same, do you prefer to work with the contractor who cleans up after himself every night before leaving your home so all you notice is the work that was done OR do you prefer to work with the contractor who leaves your place in disarray so every evening when you come home from work you then have to throw out his lunch trash and his drink cups, vacuum up drywall dust, mop your floors, fold up his tarps, sweep up his cigarette butts off your back porch, and move his supplies out of the way?

    Because, if it’s all about the finished product and nothing about the state of the work site, then you should be thrilled to work with the second contractor. My guess is, though, that you would prefer to work with the first contractor who knows how to keep things orderly.

    I agree with you that being organized is personal, but not all people are motivated by internal factors. Some people are motivated by external factors, and knowing that their coworkers are negatively judging them for their dirty bowls and waist-high piles of papers that linger for weeks on end might be what they want to read to inspire them to change.

    Plus, if you read this post and the accompanying article, you know that we’re not advocating having a perfectly clean desk that could be displayed in a museum. It explicitly describes the negative assumptions being created by an office “that is disorganized, dirty, and cluttered over a prolonged period of time” and “that a little mess is OK, but that “the problem comes in when it affects other people.'” If an office is on the verge of drawing rodents into the building and impacting everyone on staff because of food containers that sit on one person’s desk for weeks, I don’t believe it’s radical to say this creates negative assumptions about that employee. If you’re being honest with yourself, I’m sure you’d be bothered by mice in your office that could have been prevented had this other employee just taken his or her dirty dishes to the kitchen. Stacks of paper and cardboard boxes invite silverfish, centipedes, roaches, recluse spiders, and other types of pests into buildings, too. Having a critter crawl across your foot is going to have you wishing your colleagues would just clean up some of their mess. At least it would me.

  12. posted by D on

    take the dirty dishes back to the break room AND WASH THEM. AND PUT THEM AWAY!!!!

    (pet peeve. Why should the break room be the endpoint for the mold and caked-on food remains?)

  13. posted by cathleen on

    I work for the company named for a fruit and there are some groups where tidiness is appreciated but just as many where a neat desk means you aren’t creating or collaborating or working hard enough!

  14. posted by Kaz on

    Well, many of us don’t have a choice. Like lots of other people I work for a company that, for information security, demands that everyone’s desk is completely clear of papers before they leave the office. 3 ‘pings’ by the security staff and you’re fired.

    So it becomes more about neat storage rather than a neat desk or office.

  15. posted by ChrisD on

    I think in this article you are really dancing around the issue of messiness. You are saying that a person who is messy will be judged AS IF they are a bad worker, regardless of the reality, whereas I believe looks and reality have some relationship so I think if you desk is messy (not a bit untidy but really messy) then you ARE a bad worker. I.e. I am one of those people judging by appearances, because they do have SOME relationship with reality (not a perfect relationship, but A relationship).
    So the advice should not be, clear up because some people might judge you, it should be, clear up enough that you can always find the exact paper/item you want because otherwise you are not doing your job properly.

  16. posted by 1tba on

    Hi Erin,

    thank you for your quick reply!

    I think we are talking about two different things here, and maybe talking at cross purposes a bit as well.

    I totally agree with you about the whole pests issue. Just like other commentators said, dirty dishes, food etc. do not belong in the work area, because they might destroy the product or attract nasty little bugs. No issues here, I think we all agree on this.

    However, the second issue it the tidyness itself and I think what may lead to misunderstandings here whether we are aware of the degrees of it. In your reply to my post you’ve basically given me the choice between two extremes: Either perfect cleanliness or absolute chaos. To answer your question: Yes, if I had to choose between those two extremes, I’d certainly work for the clean person.
    But is that really the kind of choices we have to make in our job environments? There are multiple stages of tidyness. Some people hate piles of paper, others think papers are fine but please no more than two pens on the desk, others keep their desk itself clean but the drawers can be full at times. We’ve read this in the comments here and I believe they all are justified.

    That choice I would have to make according to your comment – I do not see myself confronted with it in my work, ever. In fact, I have never encountered such a mess as the one you describe, neither at uni nor at work. (I know there are people with a hoard syndrome, but I’ve not come across them in my professional environment. And even with hoarders, they are not all messy to the same degree) Instead, I’ve come across people who work in very different ways, who each have their own routines. We all do the same things differently but we are a good team and we’ve decided that how something is done doesn’t matter, as long as the work in the end gets done. I work in a shop btw, not an office, and you wouldn’t believe how many issues of cluttering, organising and cleaning can arise in that environment, if you let them.

    Anyway, I think you do have a really good point saying that if it’s external factors that push people onto the uncluttering train, than they should go for it, but I feel the point is a lot more convincing if you do not need to create scenarios of extremes to get it across.

  17. posted by WilliamB on

    I think there’s a big difference between organized and tidy, and between your mess and mess that affects others.

    Erin’s comment post about messy contractors reflects a mess that affects others, which is like the unorganized colleague who loses your papers and is not really like the untidy colleague who’s on top of his work.

    There are definitely jobs where it’s very hard to be organized if you’re untidy. But there are also many office jobs where its possible, hell it’s easy, to be organized but untidy.

    The norm in the many office environments I’ve worked in over my life, is that people with tidy or empty desks are (usually) envied but people without are not penalized.

    Over more years and different environments than I can count (public, private, government, for profit, nonprofit, big, small, start up, long established, several different fields) I have never seen someone thought less of for being messy. For being unsanitary, yes; for being disorganized, yes; for negatively affecting other people’s work, hell yes. But not for simple untidiness.

  18. posted by Alison on

    I’m really surprised by the intensity of responses to this post. I have 2 sons, now 19 and 21, beginning to make their own way in the world. I have raised them to be mondful of keeping open minds and open hearts in all aspects of life. At the same time, I have taught them that right or wrong, like it or not, appearances matter. The presentation we make in our person and our space will affect our success, plain ans simple. To teach them otherwise would be a disservice.

  19. posted by Sally on

    The last place I worked had a hoarder. His office was piled with machine parts, stacks of papers, etc. There was a little path to his desk. He was disorganized, often late, would lose things, etc. Every so often his boss would get him to clean up or else. I think they put up with him because he had a lot of technical knowledge.

    There was another guy who had a desk that was as clean as a whistle, even when he was working. He loved to talk and talk and you couldn’t get rid of him. Nice guy, but I always wondered what kind of work he did, if anything. About a year later, he was let go.

    At the same place, I got a new boss. I had worked there about 8 years and had always been considered a competent, organized employee. My desk had stacks of files on it because I was working hard. There were two stacks – one for the stuff I was working on, and the other for completed files. When it grew beyond two piles, I would refile the completed projects.

    I became ill, which progressed to being disabled. This boss would call me at home and complain about the state of my desk. She also intimated that I had stolen software. I believe this was because I was being bullied because I was sick.

  20. posted by S on

    @Alison, that’s how I read it, too. The point isn’t to pursue/avoid the extremes…most people are already somewhere inbetween. But others do generalize, so you need to know who you’re working with/for and how to balance what works for you with what works for them.

  21. posted by No Name on

    I am a graphic designer. I work for a publisher who allows no more than one 11″x17″-sized corkboard on the wall for anything personal. The rest of the walls are bare, in a room shared by seven other graphic designers. There are no windows and no dividers.

    My desk is neat. My corkboard holds a calendar, a schedule, and a list of pertinent URLs needed for specific projects. I dare not “imprint” my workspace with anything personal. Neither do the other seven designers I work with.

    Our space says nothing about us. It says everything about our employer. With the state of the economy as it is, we know we’re lucky to have our jobs. We’ve learned to bury our creative personalities (which is the equivalent to burying our creativity) and pretend to be “corporate.” The state of our collective office reflects that. The employer likes it that way.

    As soon as the economy improves, we will all move on. The state of our workspace (what office?) has contributed much to our discouragement.

    So even as an office says a lot about the employee, it also says much about the employer. Ours wants us to be “creative” in our design work. They have also made it impossible to be so. Or to want to be so.

    Decluttered = sterile in this case. It also equal about as much inspiration, enthusiasm, and job satisfaction as a morgue.

  22. posted by Jared on

    Rachel, your comment is based on pure conjecture. My wife is also a teacher. Her room constantly appears messy, but she also consistently has the highest scores in her school, and some of the highest in the county. She was also named Teacher of the Year, and is the most-requested teacher in the school. I suggest you consider better performance metrics than your opinion of a clean classroom.

  23. posted by Steve on

    It is well known at highly productive, innovative, creative organizations that “A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind”.

  24. posted by creative me on

    I have a double standard with office desks. When I worked in an away from home office, I NEVER left it messy at the end of the day no matter how crazy the workload. BUT as a work at home office, it is constantly progressing to chaos. I clean, it comes back — piles of mess and messier in, on around my desk (even the foor).

    I have wondered about this duplicity of desk keeping for years. I think maybe I feel safer at home if I am in a “nest” but at work, I was feeling like I forgot something unless the desk was tidy. I would LOVE to break out of the nest habit at home I really really would!

  25. posted by Gary Bloom on

    Photographs of geniuses’ offices typically show papers and books stacked all of the place.

  26. posted by Rachael on

    Jared-

    Mind you, I never said messy room = bad teacher. I was speaking purely about the environment. I suggest you not assume a point that was not made.

  27. posted by chacha1 on

    I agree with WilliamB that the mess that affects others is more likely to be judged (and IMO is quite properly judged – I’ve spent a lot of years cleaning up after people who claimed they knew where everything was at their desk but were constantly fossicking around hunting for things and bewailing the “lost”), but on the other hand I agree with Alison that, put simply, appearances matter.

    Given a choice between two job applicants with equivalent resumés, one of whom shows up in professional business attire and the other of whom shows up in jeans and a band T-shirt, I’ll hire the suit. Given two employees up for promotion, both of whom perform well by objective measures, I’ll very likely promote the one who is most professional (i.e. neat and organized) in handling hir workspace.

    Workspace doesn’t belong to the employEE – it belongs to the employER, and needs to be legible to anyone in the firm.

    As someone who tries to leave any given environment in a better state when I leave it than when I found it, I’ll cop to being judgemental in this area. :-) I don’t like people who litter, either.

  28. posted by ictus75 on

    My desk is my castle. Fortunately, I work at home. Since I’m always working on multiple projects, my desk is always in an evolving state. It’s not ‘spotless,’ but I’m a very neat & orderly person, and I get a lot of work done.

    If someone is getting the work done in a satisfactory manner, leave them alone. I’d rather have a good producer than a neatnick…

  29. posted by Samantha on

    My personal preference is a clean and tidy desk, even whilst I’m working – I am more productive that way. But I understand that’s not true of everyone. The important thing is your performance, and in a short time your coworkers will know how well you work. It doesn’t matter if your desk is cluttered or not if you constantly lose papers or emails, miss deadlines or are late for meetings. If someone is productive with an untidy (not unclean) desk, then fine – I wouldn’t work that way, but they can. If they are unproductive with a spotless and uncluttered desk, then the issue is not the state of their desk.

  30. posted by chacha1 on

    @ Samantha – absolutely. The point of the article, though, was *perception.* Whether or not an employee is perfectly productive while buried in paper and used coffee cups isn’t necessarily the point.

    An employer might prefer (in fact, every employer I’ve ever had HAS preferred) that staffers spend 10-15 minutes a day keeping their desks and workspaces organized and clean. Because, going back to my point above, that workspace doesn’t belong to the employee.

    It needs to be ready for another employee to step in, should the desk occupant be absent, without necessitating an archaeological dig. :-)

    Obviously this consideration doesn’t apply to the self-employed or the work-at-home. But it’s worth considering, all the same. Life in uncertain, and if a self-employed person unexpectedly needs to ask a friend, colleague, or family member to attend to business, an organized workspace can help to ensure that something essential isn’t overlooked.

  31. posted by SarahJ on

    I work in a pharmaceutical lab with radioactive materials. In some work places “messy” just really isn’t an option! :)
    (I like reading this blog, and other blogs about organization and productivity…but I always have to roll my eyes when they assume that everybody is either a stay at home mommy or has a job sitting in front of a computer all day…)

  32. posted by lady brett on

    this seems very dependent on situation, job, industry and personal work style.

    i suppose i am lucky to work in a small office so that my coworkers judge each other based on their performance and other relevant factors.

  33. posted by JC on

    I work in a single attorney law office (mostly paperless). I do paralegal work, greet clients, and answer phones, all in the front/entry office area. For confidentiality reasons, my desk must be clean enough that should a client walk in the door, I can flip paper files over and close down computer files in 10 seconds (that’s the time from when I see them walk past the window to when they enter my area). All files are put in the back office as soon as I am done with them, and nothing is left out overnight, or even over my lunch break. I’ve returned from a holiday and found that my boss had decided to purge files and I spent three days looking for the stack of current work I had in the back office when I left.

    Aside from that, my boss is very zen and a photographer as well. The personal touches at my work area= two small rocks and two 3/4″ inch high paper crane my son made me. Otherwise everything else is clean and tidy. I am lucky in that it’s not sterile at all. There is a huge window looking out over the yard that often has moose in it, the walls are off-white with very nice art on them, there are wood furnishings, wood floors, and stone trim. It could be so much worse.

  34. posted by Elaine on

    I’ve become a lot neater over the last year, but it really did take awhile to figure out a system. Most of my daily chores consist of emailing documents to someone, so all my “to-do” folders start with “Send To.” When the folder is empty, after the docs have been sent, I place it at the back of an incline file. Some documents don’t need to be sent every day, but I’ve come to like seeing all those skinny folders clumped together at the back of an otherwise empty organizer, so that’s a good motivator. I also have a periodic chore that piles up fast — these are things that have to be processed for individual customer locations. I keep a separate stackable tray for each location, and these go in 2 overhead bins with doors that close. The doors, in turn, have reference information fastened to them with magnets. It’s a pain having to close the doors when I want the information, so this spurs me to process the docs in the cabinets so I can close the doors and access the information more easily!
    Some items need to be filed away in locked cabinets. I can keep them on my desk without a problem, but have started to designate the first of each month as Putaway Day, and have noticed how less stressed I feel after this has been taken care of.

  35. posted by Marie on

    Not sure how I feel about the amount of miscellaneous stuff in an office, but I will tell you what DID make me a Judgy McJudgerson: leaving a copy of “Management for Dummies” in plain view. Don’t advertise your incompetency to everyone walking past your desk!

  36. posted by Dean on

    I’ve had the exact opposite happen, on multiple occasions, as an engineer. Last time it happened, a high level visitor commented on another engineers’ desk, and said that it didn’t look like he did any work. He came into my office, saw the papers and books everywhere, and said “Now, THIS is where work gets done.” We talked for several hours after that about projects and ideas.

    Now, I’m not saying I like having a messy desk, but in the middle of a project, most engineers have papers and books everywhere. When the project’s done, time to clean up.

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