Have a messy desk? Congrats, you’re more productive

At last — some encouraging news!

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Karen Jackson would be the first to admit her desk looks like a disaster area.

Her stacks of papers and photographs are so sloppy that the Texas schoolteacher won first place in a contest to find America’s messiest desk.

Sponsored by publisher Little, Brown and Co., the competition promoted “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,” by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman, a new book that argues neatness is overrated, costs money, wastes time and quashes creativity.

“We think that being more organized and ordered and neat is a good thing and it turns out, that’s not always the case,” said Freedman.

“Most of us are messy, and most of us are messy at a level that works very, very well for us,” he said in an interview. “In most cases, if we got a lot neater and more organized, we would be less effective.”

As a world-champion loser of documents, I am cheered up by this, though to be honest I didn’t know until this moment that it was a sign of high productivity. The article continues:

Freedman argues that it is neatness that is expensive.

“People who are really, really neat, between what it takes to be really neat at the office and at home, typically will spend anywhere from an hour to four hours a day just organizing and neatening,” he said.

Yet messy people are often cast in a negative light. In one study cited by NAPO, two-thirds of respondents believed workers with messy desks were seen as less career-driven than their neater colleagues.

“If you walk into my office at home, you would think, ‘Oh my God, something just exploded in that room,'” said Jackson, the contest winner. “But it’s an organized mess. It’s a mess I made, and I know where everything is.”

Messiness has overtaken neatness as modern lives have changed, the book argues. Many women used to be at home, cleaning up, rather than working outside the house, while jobs used to be simpler and more linear with less multi-tasking.

Hunting through messy piles has its value, Freedman says.

“You discover things that, if you had filed things or containerized them or purged them, you never would have seen them again. It becomes a natural reminder system,” he said.

Now, where did I put that pencil…?