A few years ago, we pointed out a study conducted by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute which demonstrates how a cluttered environment can negatively affect productivity:
“Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”
In other words, having lots of “stuff” in your visual field can make it difficult to achieve the focus needed for meaningful work.
It’s a compelling finding and one that I relate to. How often have I delayed the start of a project because my desk is a mess? Many. This is anecdotal of course, but I don’t believe that’s always a function of procrastination. After tidying up, I feel like, “Ahh, now I can work.”
Of course, I don’t want to work in a spartan, decor-free room, either. So what do I keep around my work space? Here’s a quick tour of the few items that I allow in my immediate work space.
On my desk you’ll find the expected. A computer, keyboard and mouse. There’s a coffee mug fill of pens. The mug has sentimental value to me, as I bought it while on a family vacation. Seeing it makes me smile. Next you’ll find a stack of 3×5 index cards and a desktop “inbox,” much like this one.
Lastly, there’s a coaster for the odd drink (tea, etc.). Notably absent: photos. I know many people feel motivated or happy when looking at photos of loved ones. I understand that, but those images make me wish I was with them and not at work! So no family photos for me.
To the left of my desk is a bulletin board with quick-reference material. I’ve written about my love of bulletin boards before. Mine stores phone numbers I need to know, policies that must be public and a few other similar items.
I like a tidy computer desktop as well. For me, that means the wallpaper must be either a solid color or depicting a simple image. Also, I can’t handle a screen littered with icons. I know that many people like to keep icons representing oft-used documents and applications on the desktop, and I can respect that. I just prefer folders.
There’s a quick look. For me, visual clutter definitely interferes with my ability to focus on work. With that in mind, these are the few items I’m glad to have around. How about you?