While businesses and office managers often impose ‘clean desk’ policies and tout work efficiency and productivity as the reasons, research from Germany has threatened to turn office neat freaks into a tizz – the findings indicate that being surrounded by mess can allow people to think more clearly.
The study was conducted by the University of Groningen, and in a series of experiments using both messy desks and messy shop fronts, it was found that people were more adept at decision making when their surroundings were in chaos, as they sought to simplify the tasks at hand.
“Messy desks may not be as detrimental as they appear to be, as the problem-solving approaches they seem to cause can boost work efficiency or enhance employees’ creativity in problem solving,” the authors noted in their journal article.
The researchers said the practice of ‘clean desk policies’ is based on the conventional wisdom that a disorganised and messy environment can clutter one’s mind and complicate one’s judgments.
“Not all evidence supports the conventional link between a messy environment and a messy mind,” lead researcher Jia Liu commented. Interestingly, the effect was most pronounced among conservative thinkers – presumably because political liberals were less liable to be worried about mess in the first place.
Managers and office busybodies might be keen on a clean desk, but after all, famous academics and writers such as Albert Einstein and Roald Dahl were indeed notorious for their cluttered and untidy workspaces.