Paper vs. Importance

I have noticed the most important people have a very clear desk.  This also tends to be the case for people with much less important jobs.  To illustrate, I’ve created a graph.

I’m sure this isn’t true across the board, but it does seem to be at least partially true.  How clear are the desks of the most important three people at your organization?  Here are a few reasons that paper seems to go down as importance goes up:

  • The top person can always give his paper to someone else, so it pushes the paper down toward people of mid level importance.
  • The mid-level people will only push the paper down so far, themselves, because it is their neck on the line if something gets messed up.
  • The top person has more freedom to define what is important and work on just those things.  They can avoid trivial matters.
  • Top people have someone else to help manage and file the paper.  They also don’t have others dumping stuff on their desk.
Based on this chart, Al Gore has an extreme amount of mid-level importance. See this photo from Time:
So, what do you think?  Do you notice any type of correlation between someone’s importance in an organization and their desk-organizing skills?


  1. says

    No definite correlation. There are a bunch of important people that are messy. A fact of life is that the cleanest and smartest people are not always in the most important positions.

  2. Chris says

    The points you mention are generally right, but i think you should add one important point:
    these important people aren’t without a reason important. a good way of self-organizing is an essentiell skill to make a career – and good selforganizing often includes to handle much information what ends in having less papers on the desk

  3. says

    @Niels – I’m not sure how much power the 30 inch flat panels use. Apple is starting to switch to LED screens so the new ones might be a bit more power efficient.

    Also Gore’s isn’t particularly conservative on his energy use. His house uses about 12 times as much energy as an average home. Hopefully it isn’t all from those monitors. :)

    @Stuart – Do you know of the President’s of any large countries or CEOs of Fortune 100 companies who have extremely messy desks? I don’t, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Who do you have in mind as an example.

    @Chris – True, but I think sometimes the top positions come with a support infrastructure that keeps things tidy regardless of how mess the person actually is.

  4. Larry says

    Something to consider is that most people with ADD/ADHD organize their life by putting things in piles. I know from first hand experience. I always thought I was just a slob until I started to study some of the experts on ADD.

    Author Dr. Ed Hallowell, ‘Driven to Distraction’; ‘Delivered from Distraction’, is one that has mentioned it more than once.

    As soon as I first saw that picture of Al Gore, I said to myself “He’s ADD”. I’m sure Richard Branson, amongst others, is the same. ADD’ers, in many cases, are also DOERS, but usually have someone to keep them organized, hence the clean desks.

    I guess Tipper Gore gave up trying!

  5. says

    According to me there is no exact connection. There are a group of significant people that are untidy. A truth of life is that the cleanest as well as smartest citizens are not forever in the majority significant places.

  6. says

    The benefits of a clear desk are not directly related to importance:

    – It looks clean and gives a good impression to visitors
    – It increases security and confidentiality since such documents are not flying around on the desk
    – I believe that it increases productivity
    – In allows introducing a hot desk system

    Important people might more often have a clean desk because of receiving more guests and being very productive might have been one aspect of becoming important.

    I don’t agree that they can push more paper down. Important people have to read a lot of stuff and also receive a lot of material from their subordinates.

    If you want to learn what is necessary to maintain a clean desk you can read more on my blog:

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