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Kendra Cherry

Does a Cluttered Desk Equal a Cluttered Mind?

By April 1, 2013

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As I was cleaning and organizing my messy desk in my home office the other day, I started to wonder what the state of our desks might say about the state of our minds.

desk

"If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" Albert Einstein once asked. It turns out that there might be something to his question. Researchers have found that people with higher educational status, work experience, and salary tend to have messier offices.

How we keep our office spaces can also reveal hints about our personalities. According to psychologist Sam Gosling, professor at the University of Texas and author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, people who have highly organized offices tend to be high conscientiousness, one of big 5 personality traits.

In an article in Psychology Today, cognitive psychologist David Kirsh suggested that we keep our offices the way that best suits our cognitive style. Messy people tend to use environmental cues to structure their time, so lots of notes and stacks of papers help them feel better connected to what they are working on and what they've accomplished.

Neat and organized people, on the other hand, rely on things like planners and to-do lists to structure their time. An uncluttered office helps these individuals better focus on what they need to accomplish.

As for my own desk style, I find myself somewhere in the middle of the continuum. I love using to-do lists and having a clutter-free workspace, but somehow my desk always ends up covered in piles of handwritten notes, articles from research journals, and stacks of open books.

What does your desk look like? Would you say that your office is matched to your personality and cognitive style?

Trying to tame the clutter in your office? Here are a few resources that might help:

References

Dixit, J. (2010, March/April). Psychology Today. p. 49.

Image: aka_lusi (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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