Messy Does Not Equal Disorganized

(Laura’s note: I’m on maternity leave, and while I’ll be posting occasionally over the next few weeks, I wanted to take the opportunity to share guest posts from some of my favorite bloggers. Enjoy!)

By Sara Caputo

Let me start by saying that I have seen some messy offices, homes and workplaces.  In my line of work, this is my daily reality and the very reason I have a business.  However, early on in my business, I had an a-ha moment.  Just because someone is messy doesn’t mean that they are disorganized and conversely, just because someone is neat, it doesn’t mean they ARE organized.  It’s easy to judge a book by its cover, or in this case, an office by its appearance. However it’s important to go back to the definition of what it means to be organized. Webster says it’s to systemize and give organic structure to something. In simple terms I think it’s about being able to find what you need when you need it.  If we use this as our definition, messiness shouldn’t matter, should it?

According to a Kelton Research survey, workplace clutter tarnishes professional image and interestingly enough, the study revealed that 2/3 of Americans believe that their organizational skills are lacking.  53% admit to thinking negatively of coworkers with messy desks.  A whopping 90% of Americans admit that disorganization has a negative effect on their lives.

So, why the messiness?

Life is moving faster than ever and taking time to put things away where they belong takes time.  It is much easier to let things fall where they fall and collect in the corners due to limited time and energy to follow through and get things back to where they live within your home or office.  In a recent blog post by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, she stated that the trivial habit of putting things away in the proper place gives people a major boost to happiness.

I think everyone can agree that it feels really good to put things back where they belong and more importantly to be able to find things when we need them.  However, sometimes people who just can’t deal with looking at visual clutter tend to stash things away haphazardly with no order, purpose or system. Remember when we were kids and were asked to clean up our room and usually ended up stuffing things in the closet or under the bed?  The room looked neat but it most likely wasn’t organized. Now as adults, how many of you reading this article have your lunch, purse, food, drinks or personal items in the bottom drawer of your desk?  You know the one I mean.  The one where there could be vertical papers, projects and files ready to be easily found?  When I ask this question in the classes I teach, without fail half the room raises their hands.

While having a neat and tidy home or office might look appealing, the truth is that it really doesn’t matter what it looks like. What matters is how it functions and supports you in how you naturally live and work.

Consider how your spaces function and support you. Here are a few questions to ponder:

1.  Can I find what I am looking for with relative ease?  (relative ease = less than 5 minutes)

2.  Do I end up touching documents, emails, papers, files more than 2-3 times?

3.  Are my workspace systems reflective of my current work, projects, family, life?

4.  Do I operate in concentric circles? (That means that the items you need/use most often are closes to you and the items you need/use least often are furthest away from you)

5.  In general, do I get things done at in my workspace or do I get distracted and lack productivity?

All of these are more important than whether a desk looks messy.

Sara Caputo is the author of The Productivity Puzzle, and the owner of Radiant Organizing, a productivity and organizing company based in Santa Barbara, California. 

2 thoughts on “Messy Does Not Equal Disorganized

  1. Organization is one of the challenges to the “mobile office”. We are not yet a paperless society and the fiction that we are causes a lot of overhead.

    In terms of organization, one’s family is a big factor. Large families almost have to be more organized than small families or chaos results. In my family, keeping things out of the reach of my toddler twins is a primary organizational principle.

    1. My problem is that if I can’t see something, it may as well not exist. There are some exceptions (I’ll remember where the chocolate is hiding) but papers or magazines or anything like that are only in my active brain space if they are visible. So that creates some clutter. And renders my desk drawers pretty useless.

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