Recently I was directed to an article that promised to show me how to tidy my desk. Hey, I'm always game to look at what those over-organizers have to show us. That's the way we learn, right?
And it's not as if my desk is not a fertile field for research in this area:
This is the actual photo of the actual author of the piece, who gives you around 11 rules to help your desk look like this one. (Note: because it is not my goal to savage people like this, I am neither linking to nor identifying the author or the website.)
The comments on the article were evenly split between those whose work, like mine, would never allow them to aspire to this barren landscape, and those who were salivating at the chance to start scraping everything away. Fortunately, everyone seemed aware that neither approach was any more valid than the other, and the discussion remained civil.
My own desk goes in cycles, of course, depending on what I'm working on, how resource intensive it is, and laziness. The photo of my desk above is a little messier than usual, especially considering I'm not in the middle of anything. (Both books are still in the WASTE BOOK phase.)
On the whole, though, my workspace is generally untidy. For my defense I would like to give you A Perfect Mess, by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freeman, the thesis of which is that the effort involved in keeping a system looking like the minimalist wasteland above is not worth it. (It is worth recognizing that one of the main sources of clutter — paperwork — has been "eliminated" by the author of the piece. More power to him, I guess.)
The subtitle of A Perfect Mess is "The Hidden Benefits of Disorder - How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place." Their point is that you could put away that folder every time you set it aside, but then you have to go dig it out the day after tomorrow when you need it again. It's actually more efficient to operate more on the lines of kanban or Lichtenbergian TASK AVOIDANCE: keep stuff at hand, and make it so that the stuff you need bubbles to the top where you can get to it.
Like one's garden, of course, sometimes you do have to scrape it all off so you can start over, but it is not true — as the scolds would have it — that if you "stayed on top of the mess" you'd feel better and work harder. You'd simply be procrastinating your work more often, and not in a good way.
No, save "clean off the desk" for those TASK AVOIDANCE times when you really really need to not work on Making the Thing That Is Not. That's efficiency.
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