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The meaning behind that messy desk: method, not mayhem

Do you hate to see a cluttered desk? Does it frustrate you? If you’re like a lot of people, you have the impulse to sweep everything off and start all over again.

Good news. You can relax. It appears that a cluttered desk, rather than denoting a cluttered mind, may actually be a sign of a sharply focused one.

Studies show that, when faced with clutter, people’s minds and memories seem to become sharper. It may have to do with being forced to seek efficient strategies for finding what you want amid the clutter. It may also be linked to the stress arising from having to deal with that clutter: Your mind gets an incentive to work faster and better.

Sometimes clutter and stress work for you

At first blush this may sound odd. You’d think that stress would have the opposite effect. In fact, it’s a well-established premise in psychology that people can handle chunks of up to seven items at any one time in their short-term memory.

You probably assume, sure, it’s not too difficult to remember a six- or seven-digit number on hearing it once. Eight digits or more? Much harder, you think. Yet, during a rush period, wait staff can often double that capacity, accurately remembering the orders for 15 or more customers without writing anything down. It doesn’t even seem to matter if the wait staff take the orders in a systematic way, or randomly from anywhere around the table.

Curiously, once the rush is over, their ability to remember orders shrinks noticeably.

The takeaway from all this is simple. You may not be comfortable working at a cluttered desk, but don’t be bothered by employees who work that way. They could just be your most efficient workers!

Steer clear of clutter when it comes to driving

 Of course, there’s an exception to every rule. This one’s a biggie. The one area where clutter decreases performance is driving.

The more cluttered the landscape is with traffic signs, billboards, people crossing randomly, or changed traffic patterns – the worse your driving becomes. You need to force yourself to pay attention.

Read more about the effects of clutter here:

Messy desks and thinking clearly

Messy desks and high intelligence

The amazing memories of wait staff

A study on driving and clutter

And… here’s a video of legendary funnyman W.C. Fields taking on the most cluttered desk ever!


 

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