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DEALING WITH OFFICE CLUTTER

Posted by Tim Bryce on April 8, 2013

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– The fundamentals are not as complicated as you might think.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
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I cringe when I hear someone say, “A cluttered desk is the sign of a brilliant mind.” I don’t know who invented this little gem, some say Albert Einstein, but I can’t seem to find any record of it. More likely, it was some slob who got called up on the carpet by his boss for running a pigpen.

It has always been tough to run an organized and efficient office, but this seems to have been compounded in recent times when PC’s started to pop-up all over and we allowed employees to eat at their desks. Now it is not uncommon to see a number of wires running everywhere, overloaded electrical sockets, and empty fast food bags and cups laying around. We used to complain about ashtrays, but this appears to be a thing of the past. Instead, we find cigarette butts on the ground just outside of the office or outdoor ashtrays overflowing with them. Very professional.

Since I believe our work is an extension of our personal lives, I tend to think of the office as our home away from home. This makes me wonder what we might find if we visited some employees homes. Are they as big a slobs at home as they are at work? If not, why do they find it necessary to trash their office as opposed to their homes?

Office clutter is indicative of management’s organization and a part of the corporate culture. Some believe the sloppier they look, the more they give the appearance they are hard at work. Not necessarily. More likely, sloppiness is indicative the person is trying to hide something and is actually quite lazy.

The military understands the need for organization and keeps their facilities spotless; you are expected to either work on something, file it, or throw it away. If you need new file cabinets, buy them. Your work is obviously not important if you keep the same clutter on your desk all of the time. In fact, such clutter will grow over time. For example, have you ever seen someone with a plastic tray on their desk? Theoretically, such trays are used for work in progress, but you’ll notice the trays never empty and, if anything, the paperwork grows. Every now and then you have to simply throw the contents in the plastic tray into the garbage can.

Programmers typically like to keep a cluttered desk. To overcome this problem we warned our programmers to clean them up or they might find the debris in the trash. At first, they thought this was a hallow warning. They found we were serious when they came in one day and found their desks spotless (and their paperwork in the garbage). We didn’t have a problem with office clutter after doing this a couple of times. Some programmers are aghast when I tell this story, but following our cleanup of the office we actually experienced an increase in productivity simply by enforcing a little discipline in the workplace. This required the programmers to organize themselves better and they were able to focus on the problem at hand as opposed to wading through the mess on their desks. I guess I see programming as a profession in the same sense as I see engineers, architects, and accountants as professions. They also require discipline in order to productively perform their work.

Office clutter is a reflection of a person’s professionalism and, as mentioned, a part of the corporate culture. It can be remedied if management is so inclined to do so. I admire an office that is well run and organized. It tells me the people are serious about their work and a company I want to do business with. Just remember, a cluttered desk is the sign of a lazy mind, not a brilliant one.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  WHO IS TEACHING MORALITY? – And why it is important to our survival.

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 12:30-3:00pm ET), and KGAB-AM 650 “The Morning Zone” with host Dave Chaffin (weekdays. 6:00-10:00am MST). Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube.

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5 Responses to “DEALING WITH OFFICE CLUTTER”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    An M.B. of Clearwater, Florida wrote…

    “Tim – I can tell you in general who invented your quote at the beginning. It was a liberal. Several studies have shown that liberals overwhelmingly have cluttered, messy offices and conservatives have neat, tidy ones. Of course there are exceptions to everything. Other studies have shown that messy people waste as much as 30% of their time looking for things…..I would not call that the sign of a brilliant mind. ;-)”

    Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “When I was working with medical records, having every document in its place could actually mean the difference between life or death. When a patient was admitted to emergency, his record was sent for immediately. Without the patient’s history and list of medications and allergies, lifesaving treatment can kill the patient and lawsuits will follow. Brilliant or lazy, when people’s lives are at stake, all employees need to keep the records in order.”

    Like

  3. Jim Riddell said

    If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind what is an empty desk the sign of?

    That being said, there is clutter, mess, order and easy access to information. If a person is on top of any project and can lay their hands on the appropriate piece of paper when needed does the desk need to be empty all the time? Probably not. If there are things being kept on the desk merely because of laziness to put things away that is a bad thing. However, if it is the difference between getting up every so often to go retrieve something from a file then it is inefficient at best. As with all things there are gradations of ‘evil’.

    I would be interested to actually see the measurement professed by these anonymous studies which ‘prove’ that ‘messy’ people are less productive than people who always have a clear desk. I’d also like to see how neatly some of these people who belong to the ‘clean-desk club’ keep their email folders.

    I’d say that I’m somewhere down the scale from empty desk toward cluttered but not at messy.

    Like

    • Tim Bryce said

      Jim –

      I can only speak from personal experience, not only at my company but at others I have visited. Most of the messy desks I have seen, particularly in the programming world, is nothing more than a smoke screen to demonstrate they are staying busy. Either work on it, file it, or throw it away.

      All the Best,
      Tim Bryce

      Like

  4. Tim Bryce said

    A U.V. of Largo, Florida wrote…

    “You’re right about the cluttered desk. I used to work “neat”. Knew where everything was at any given moment. Could never work at a messy desk. Hate digging for something under a pile of nonsense when it should be “in it’s place”.”

    Like

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