Do you always need to have a neat desk

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A Tidy Desk: Efficient—or the Sign of a Sick Mind?

There is a big difference between neat and organized. Just because you aren’t neat, it doesn’t mean you aren’t organized. However, having a messy desk does mean that people may assume you are disorganized and will probably treat you as such.

Warren and I just spent the weekend in New York. Our hotel room had a wonderful view of the office tower behind it. This photo was taken from our hotel room.

Warren commented on what a mess the offices were in, and wondered what kind of person worked in that kind of mess.

My immediate reaction was to go to the defense of the occupant (who wasn’t there at the time, since it was about 10 p.m.). I protested that just because they weren’t neat, it didn’t mean they weren’t organized.

Then I realized that perhaps I use that line because I’m not as neat as I could be most of the time; but I am always organized. And it got me thinking that it really doesn’t matter if you are organized, if other people don’t see you that way.

When you’re not organized—or when people think you aren’t—they will tend to follow up with you more often than they would with other people, wasting your time and theirs. Or, they may not give you a task or responsibility because they will assume you aren’t efficient enough to get the job done (even if you are).

How can you make sure you’re portraying yourself as an organized, efficient professional? What does “neat” look like?

– Before you go home at night, make sure it’s obvious that you are not still there. The desk I saw in the office tower looked like someone was still working away—on a big project, apparently. If you’re working, a little clutter is fine but if you’re away for an extended period of time, or the workday is over, tidy up.
– Limit the number of piles of paper on your desk. Put them away or find some type of accordion filing system that will let you store “like” piles together, out of sight.
– Get vertical filing racks for the walls of your workspace.
– Don’t keep duplicates on your desk. Do you really need a coffee mug with 18 pens in it?
– Cut down on the number of sticky notes around your workspace. Find a better way to organize your reminders.

Messy doesn’t mean unorganized. Many people work in “organized chaos,” and they know exactly where everything is and they can keep track of every project they’re working on.

However, perception is reality, and if people assume you’re incompetent because of the messy way you work, the cost is to your reputation. Isn’t it worth investing just a little bit of time each day to take control over your mess—and other people’s perception of you?

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