A Clean Desk Policy?

I seem doomed to have my writing environment in constant upheaval. Today we had workmen jackhammering up tile in the downstairs part of the house that got flooded and so I had no wifi, no room to get to my desk (because all the furniture is still stacked up in my study) and a whole lot of dust to clean up. Now, I am hardly the type to have a clean desk policy but this is getting ridiculous!

I remember the law firm I worked for in Melbourne many years ago tried to impose a strict clean desk policy. You were not supposed to have a scrap of work on your desk at the end of the day. Needless to say I failed miserably. I am a woman who works in ‘piles’ and if I don’t have these prominent situated around my office I can’t for the life of me remember what I am supposed to be doing. I was lucky that the partner who I worked for at the time, a very anally retentive lawyer with a spotless desk, took pity on me and let me continue in my dirty, piled up paper, working fashion. Apparently, he said, he couldn’t really fault me as I managed to work just as efficiently despite the mess. Although I would much rather work in a clean office environment, just as I think everyone else would too as it would allow us to get more work done. I might have to ask my manager if we can buy from Green Facilities or somewhere similar to ensure that our office remains as clean as possible.

I was pleased to read that this phenomenon is borne out in a book called The Perfect Mess by Dave Freedman and Eric Abrahamson which contends that those with cluttered, messy desks are often more efficient and creative than their neatnik brethren. Since my desk always looks like a disaster zone I think I am going to stick with the Freedman/Abrahamson interpretation…but nonetheless I have to wonder whether most writers are like me – or whether I am just deluding myself that disorder is merely a sign of a great author in the making.

As it is, I am always surrounded by piles of research and printed out copies of the latest manuscript. Currently I have marked up copies of part one of my young adult WIP, a pile of articles on Orphic mythology, notebooks with scrawls for two new projects I am contemplating, an atlas of WWI with post it notes spilling forth, files relating to my sons’ school stuff I need to attend to, and a messy pile of handwritten notes with a revised plot outline in progress.

So what about my fellow writers? Do you, like me, have a messy desk full of piles of paper or are you a neat freak with everything organized and de-cluttered for the sake of productivity and sanity? What do you think, is a messy desk a sign of creativity or just plain slovenliness?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

16 thoughts on “A Clean Desk Policy?

  1. Messy, but I’m working on it. It’s a sign of creativity to a point, like Einstein’s socks. The mind moves onto the next thing and whatever came before is too often left where it was last used.

    Of course, it could also be ADD. I prefer to think of it as creativ–oh, look! a bird!

  2. My area is eternally messy. Piles of paper next to the keyboard, more stacks of other things on the other desk in my office. My garage is just as bad, but I know what I have and where I have it. Most of the time.

  3. First of all, Clare, where did you get that picture of my office?

    I’m totally with you. Every six months or so I do a big cleaning, get all neat and tidy, and resolve not to let the Kudzu happen again. I look up a month and a half later, and there it is again.

    And yet, I can find things…

  4. I’m an organized messy type, if that makes sense. I keep “organizing” my piles into folders, which then themselves pile up. From time to time I purge the files, and start all over.

  5. My messy desk is a sign of a person who doesn’t have enough time or space to keep it clean. 😎

    I consider myself middle of the road–some stuff stacked on the desk, but not so much I can’t find a space to spread out and work.

    Though I have to admit–I recently visited another blog where the writer posted a picture of their completely clean and sanitized desk and my two thoughts were “I can’t trust this person” or “this photo isn’t real.” LOL!

  6. My desk at home and my desk at my day job are both in terminal messy stages. I’m always trying to declutter but somehow it doesn’t last long. I do think there is some method to my madness when it comes to getting things done, but I have to admit I think I’d feel better if my desks were a bit more organized.
    A clean desk? I don’t think so, it would disturb my creative genius.:) That would be the old tabula rasa and that’s as scary as staring at the blank computer page.

  7. I noticed that the higher up the ladder a person is in a corporation, the less clutter you see on their desks and in their offices.

    I live life like the low man on the totem pole

  8. Looks like my messy desk is in great company. I do try to neaten up through the week, and occasionally, I attempt to completely declutter it. I have come to realize that between ADD and having a creative mind, there is no hope of a lasting spotless desk. 🙂

  9. I prefer a neat desk to a messy one, but I’m not obsessive about it. At both my big boy job and in my writing office, I reach a breaking point where I just can’t take the clutter anymore, and I start throwing stuff out. I save fewer and fewer hard copies of anything.

    John Gilstrap

  10. I peer upon a clean desk at my office every Saturday afternoon about 2pm, when is when my overtime day ends. I spend the last part of that day cleaning it and it stays that until about 7am Monday…which is when I start work again.

    At home I made it simple. I have no desk to clutter. Instead I sit in my wingback recliner with a laptop and a small side table that wobbles, therefore allowing any mess I accumulate to topple of its own accord into decorative cardboard box labeled “For Filing”.

  11. Sounds like I am in good company for the most part! I admire those who are tidied than me though and I drive my husband crazy as he is an obsessively organized person. I say here’s to a bit of disarray in our lives!

  12. I used to be in the army and live in the barracks. They didn’t even want a magazine sitting on a desk. Everything had to be put away. My squad leader was forever yelling at me because my desk looked messy (mostly oddly, his was worse).

    I do try hard to keep my desk not messy, but not “organized” in the way most people talk about it. I’m very right-brained, so no typically recommending organizing method works for me. Things like file cabinets and drawers are black holes.

    I’m taking a revision course which involved colored index cards. I had cards on the dining room table, cards on the desk, cards on the floor by the desk, cards on the floor in the bedroom–bye, bye cards! I couldn’t deal with all the little pieces of paper any more so I put it all in OneNote.

    I’ve learned the best thing for me is to keep the paper printed out to a minimum. I can’t get piles if I don’t have paper to make the piles.

  13. I’m normally a neat freak, but lacking a desk I have accumulated 4, that’s f-o-u-r, carry-on and laptop bags full of various notes, brochures, and copies of my WIP. I’m not as bad now that I use dropbox (see my comment on Crippolater, Alligator – The Kill Zone) and keep everything digital. For some things though, paper is still the way to go.

  14. My office is definitely cluttered, and like you, I have various “piles” scattered about, albeit each one with a different purpose. There is the household pile, the “file me” pile, and the To Be Read pile. Somehow the file me stack never gets any lower. It’ll probably still be there the day I die. My current WIP takes up another pile, and I have various notes scribbled to myself around the room.

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