Apparently, you can tell a lot about a person by their desk. A quick scout around the internet and you’ll find lots of business psychologists poised to give you their wise words (only if you buy their books, of course), which generally follow this thinking: if you like to surround yourself with photos, fluffy pens and cacti, you are “extroverted and creative”. If you’ve got lots of gadgets, you are “curious but impulsive”. And if you’re one of those who can’t throw anything away, you are “an expander", aka a desk spreader and The Most Annoying Person In The Office.
Apart from the obvious question – who is spending time researching this stuff? – my other one would be: do you really need a degree in psychology to deduce that someone with a tidy desk is “organised and professional”? Anyway, I am going stamp my feet here and say THEY ARE WRONG. I say this because I like to think I am “organised and professional”, but here is a picture of my desk right now:
While there is probably some truth in the notion that office desks are a crystallisation of a person’s life, I’m not so sure that they give you an automatic roadmap to someone’s personality. To prove it, I have conducted an unscientific study of a few people’s desks at The Pool:
ELLE TURNER'S DESK: Using my Sherlock Holmes-esque powers of deduction, I can tell she is a beauty writer because she has perfumes and creams by her desk.
HANNAH BANKS-WALKER'S DESK: Here, Hannah is trying to throw us off the scent by drinking tea from an L mug. That is very likely “my" mug. The cheek.
ZOË BEATY'S DESK: Zoë made me only take a picture of the tidy side of her desk. This is cheating.
The one thing I did conclude was that most people’s desks were messy. But if “a tidy desk is a tidy mind”, does that mean everyone at The Pool is scatterbrained flibbertigibbets? Of course not – after all, wasn’t it Albert Einstein who famously said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”?
I will always be with Albert on this, although there is one notable exception at The Pool – The Boss’ desk. Sam Baker’s is a minimalist dream: just computer, pen pot and tray of stylish cacti that she is very proud to have kept alive for at least three months now.
Neatniks and not-so-neatniks will have to agree to disagree about mess. What can’t be contested, though, is the fact that a tidy desk makes a good impression. Desks, in the same vein as new builds, are also getting smaller as office rents are getting more expensive. Employees are having to impose hot-desking or squeeze more people into tighter spaces. So, it makes sense to be tidy. It means this week – which is also back-to-school and new-pencil-case week – you’ll find me chucking and tidying. See you at the recycling bins?
HOW TO KEEP YOUR DESK MESS-FREE
Use vertical folders for storing documents and papers to stop pile-ups and make things easier to find.
BUY A TRAY FOR YOUR DESK
Use this to hold anything you are working with – all your pens/papers/Post-its. Pop the whole tray away in your drawer at the end of the day.
SEPARATE DEEP AND SURFACE STORAGE
If you have desk drawers, use the top one to keep things you use every day, such as projects you are working on, and also a tray (see above). Reserve the bottom ones to store things you don’t need so often.
APPLY THE “ONE-MINUTE RULE”
This phrase was coined by Gretchen Rubin, author of The New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project. If a task can be actioned in one minute, get on and do it first so you can tick it off your to-do list and feel good about it.
CREATE "TO DO" AND "DONE" SIDES, THEN CLEAR AT THE END OF EACH DAY
Matt Perman, author of How To Set Up Your Desk, stresses the need for a left-to-right workflow. Place to-be-actioned projects on the left and keep the right side of your desk free. Move these over to the right once they’re completed. At the end of the day, make sure the right side is clear, so you’re ready to go the next morning.