Is messy more creative?

IMG_3566I’ve been considering the merits of a tidy desk compared to a messy one. Mine was always (slightly) messy! That said, I now have two: one at home with computer and ‘stuff’ and one at the studio for what I call ‘proper’ work (editing, etc). No computer but laptop there if needed.

I remember my last place of work introducing a clean desk policy, so at the end of each day (evening, actually, as we worked stupid hours) I would open my top drawer and knock everything into it, only to take it all out again the next day. This irritated me and wasted time, so I’d say it wasn’t the best policy.

It’s a very personal thing. I can’t stand too much mess because it then becomes a distraction. I also can’t stand too much noise, but it depends on the individual. As a teenager, I could work with earphones playing loud music directly down my eustachian tube. Now, I’m typing this from my bed, using my laptop, while listening to old Bowie. If I was at my other desk editing then that would require focus, tidiness, concentration and ideally, silence, or at the most non-too-challenging classical music. So I’m suspecting the tidiness of the desk is closely linked to the kind of work undertaken. Precision work requires tidy!


This is an interesting blog post. Like many posts on this subject, it mentions Einstein and Zuckerberg being messily creative. It also mentions work by the psychologist Kathleen Vohs,  who concluded that the norm is cleanliness. It is a societal standard, so those who are clean and tidy uphold social values. Those who are messy turn away from convention and try new stuff. If you’re someone who likes mess, then the chances are you like creative problem-solving. Chaos makes you think slightly outside the box. Ironically, Steve Jobs, key streamliner and creator of techie beauty, was one such person who loved mess, and whose bookshelves were dressed at distinct angles.

Messiness could mean that you just crack on with stuff and don’t have time to tidy up. You are someone who cares little what others may think. I often think about tidying my desk (which I keep small to minimise mess) but then start writing/working and it goes by the wayside. No time is right. However, I do think that mess needs to be relevant. For example, why did I for many months have a half chewed ping pong ball on my desk? I had it because my dog brought it in and I retrieved it. Did it need to stay there? No. However, there is something about the orange orb that focused my mind so there it stayed for a while as I vowed: I’ll tidy up – later!

The key is keeping a balance. If you are lucky, you can have two different desks, one for creativity, and one for precision work.

Conclusion: work out what is right for you, and go with it!


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