Messy Desks

One of the greatest hindrances to productivity isn’t particularly technical or complex in nature. It isn’t something that’s usually difficult to solve, but it takes time and effort. Messy desks are responsible for some of the most frustrating (and sometimes, humorous) incidents throughout a workday. That contract you can’t find? The glasses that always seem to walk away? Clutter on a desk tends to conceal things when you most need them. However, there is a humorous side to this issue. Here are some funny stories a few people agreed to share with us.

My ex-husband and I both officed out of the house. As a former marine officer, he always kept his desktop completely clear of papers. My desk, on the other hand, was always messy. One day he looked into my home office, shook his head and said, “A messy desk is a messy mind.” I quickly responded, “That may be true. But, then your desk is empty. Frankly, I’d rather have a messy mind, then an empty one.” Even he had to laugh.

Dr. Jo (Joanne Lichten, PhD, RD)

What  I think is funny about this story is how true it is about our minds being messy.  The thought process is a jumbled mess of connecting various things in different ways.  Your mind doesn’t organize everything in neat little boxes. However, this might be even more of a reason to try to keep your work environment in some semblance of order. It is probably better to let your mind handle the creative part of thinking instead of trying to create a creative work space by having everything messed up.

I once had a brilliant co-worker named Jeremy who was always disheveled, splattered with coffee stains and had two desks piled with papers, artifacts, and data from the multiple research studies he was conducting. Nothing was in a file or in any way organized, from what I could tell. Once I searched his desk(s) for about 45 minutes for something I needed and couldn’t find it. When he came to the office later that day, I asked him for it. He reached into a pile, almost without looking, handed it to me, smiled, and softly uttered, “idiot”. I still laugh about that.

Rink Murray

It is amazing how we can find something in a mess when it is our mess. Still there is a certain amount of overhead that goes into keeping track of everything and a good organization system tends to relieve you of that burden. Don’t let your ability to find things be an excuse for not being more organized.

Today I do publicity for authors and musicians – and have my own messy desk issues – but years ago I was a secretary and took dictation every day. My boss would write out each of his letters and then insisted on dictating them to me at breakneck speed – in a heavy German accent. After a few days of stressing out to keep up, I discovered that he always dropped the handwritten notes into the mess on his desk — all I had to do was “straighten up” his desk a little as I left the office, picking up the drafts and typing from the original. His messy desk probably saved my job – and taught me a lot about the importance of thinking boldly to get the job done better.

Karen Sell- writing/editing/publicity

I guess there may be some advantages to having a boss with a messy desk.

I am a two-time Emmy award winning TV Producer and I’m working from home. Three years ago, my office was redone on a local TV show and it was gorgeous. With my past work, I kept bringing more folders, notebooks, binders, etc. home and my office has slowly become once-again cluttered.

I was in my office the other day looking for something (You know how it is, it looks messy but you know where things are.) and a number of loose papers slid off my desk, onto a chaise lounge and down to the floor. All of a sudden, the papers flew up in the air scaring me to death and I screamed. I realized that my cat, Indigo Sherri, was on the floor and the papers had fallen on top of her. She came out of there so fast, we both were scared and I laughed hysterically. I note that my cat is now hanging out in my bed…I’m sure she’s avoiding another “land slide.”

Robin Craig

So her cat basically decided that the office was too messy to be safe!

If you have a tale about a messy desk, please add it in the comments. If you need help keeping your desk neat, take a look at these 12 tips.  We’ve also written an article about where a cluttered desk comes from to help you stop disorganization at the source.


  1. says

    I always say that “Organization is more than just a clean room, it’s a frame of mind.” The way you keep your desk and room is a direct indication of the way your thought process is.

    Great post Mark!! Very much worth the Re-tweet!!

  2. says

    HaHa. Those are funny stories. I think they call it the Organized Chaos Theory. I saw it on a kid’s science show one time. Personally, I’m a disorganized person that I drive my mother crazy. It’s not just my desk that is messy. My room is messy. Even my bed is cluttered with paperwork and files (yep, I literally sleep with my work). But I know where I last put my things that if someone cleans them up, I wouldn’t know where to find them. I know it’s not a good practice. There are other aspects in my life I keep organized. For example, my computer desktop. Only icons there are the Recycle Bin and My Computer. Don’t ask me why. But I like it nice and clean and I can clearly see my desktop picture =D

  3. says

    Nice post! Personally a messy desk would drive my mad. I’m slightly OCD so things have to be ‘clean’ to an extent – or at least organised. Argh messy desks.

  4. Anelly says

    Interesting but also a funny reading. I have another theory: having a messy desk and finding the things without searching for them too much means that your mind is organized and all the unorganized stuff from your desk is organized in your head. :) More than that, i read somwhere that even Einstein had a messy desk (pic)

  5. says

    I try to save things in electronics form as much as possible. It is so much easier to seach using keywords and either print or e-mail the item in question. Looking at paper clutter makes me want to throw a match on it and burn it.

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