What is the psychology behind a clean desk and how it can help?

11 November 2021

You may have heard the phrase “tidy space, tidy mind” but what does that actually mean? Can a clear and uncluttered working space really have an impact on how you work, whether you’re productive and how you feel about your day-to-day experience? Well, as it turns out, there are some pretty clear psychological benefits to having a clear and clean desk that make it well worth regularly tidying up.

Genius = mess?

From depictions in films to the reputation of people like Einstein, who was notoriously messy, we often equate a chaotic working environment with some level of genius. There is some evidence to suggest that messier office spaces are where more creativity and inspiration live. However, for most of us, working in a clear, clean and uncluttered space isn’t just more hygienic but it can also have a range of other benefits too.

  • Less time is wasted searching your desk for documents or folders – the average person wastes more than four hours a week just looking for documents.
  • A clean desk has been found to improve focus, which will mean you’re better able to do your job and likely to be more productive too. Someone working at a clean desk has been found to be able to work without losing focus for more than seven minutes longer than someone who isn’t working at a clean desk.
  • One study found that people who have cleaner, tidier desks are more likely to make healthier food choices.
  • A clean and tidy environment can indeed result in a ‘tidy’ mind, as ensuring that your desk is clean and uncluttered has a positive impact on mental stability.
  • You will experience less stress if you’re not working in an environment that feels chaotic and overcrowded – this can result in the reduction of physical symptoms such as bad sleeping patterns.
  • If your desk is clean and organised you’ll create a much more positive and professional impression. We now know that 57% of people judge coworkers on whether or not their workspace is clean or dirty, messy or tidy.
  • You’re less likely to give up on tasks if you’re working at a clean desk – in fact, persistence increases by 84%.

A tidy, clean desk is good for you

In addition to the psychological benefits of having a clean desk there are also a number of health benefits too. For example, cold and flu viruses can hang around for up to 24 hours so the only way to protect yourself is to make sure that you’re cleaning your desk every day. The average office keyboard can carry 7,500 different bacteria at any one time unless it’s cleaned regularly.

Tips for ensuring your desk space is optimised

  • Declutter first – throw out everything you don’t need, shred obsolete documents and recycle or throw out rubbish.
  • Implement a system, for example colour coding your folders.
  • Have designated containers, such as a junk tray for documents that need to be shredded and a container for pens, stapler etc.

A clean and tidy desk is a space in which you can be focused and productive for longer – it’s worth the small investment in time to make that happen.