Tidy Desk Police Can Make Your Quota Unreachable

Messy desks have been discussed recently in areas way beyond office manager chat groups.

Courtesy the recently shoehorned in minority owners of Manchester United Football Club.

Regularly atop the table of most valuable teams in all of world sport, it has if not a new broom, then a dust pan and brush fresh out the box.

The oil and chemicals billionaire now in charge, Jim Ratcliffe, has long been dabbling in sport. And with help of proven marginal gains trailblazer, Dave Brailsford, is I think it's fair to say, somewhat preoccupied with Elite Performance.

Barely a week can pass without another of their edicts flooding news feeds and social media.

Much of it, pushes my open door. As you'd expect from Sir Dave, sweating the small stuff is a lamentably overlooked angle which he makes you realise you simply must get with to win.

When it comes to general workplace cleanliness, we learn from perhaps the first internal email of Sir Jim, that the place he walked around when first bought-in was seriously suboptimal. Even calling out the witnessed "high degree of untidiness" as "a disgrace".

He firmly stated that a messy office means "we don’t care enough to keep things shipshape".

One of my first bosses once tried to instigate what was fleetingly vogue three decades back; the end-of-day clear desk policy.

It was a disaster. Valuable energy was taken from selling by those - pretty much every single salesperson - who spent more effort on flouting, stretching or ridiculing the new rules than bending to their will.

And to put it mildly, the coders and screwdrivers in the office next door worked in what truly resembled a bombsite, that'd been used the night before for an illicit teenage sleepover, with a madcap inventor having ran something like a time machine experiment before breakfast. Yet they produced marvels, were loved by customers and mainly brilliant.

'A cluttered desk shows a cluttered mind'.


The corollary is withering; 'so what's an empty desk the sign of, then?'

At the time of the missive going viral, memes such as photos of Einstein's desk were everywhere.

'Chaotic desk, chaotic work'.


Advocates reposted studies showing how visual disorganisation drains us. Only to be countered by contrary ones where messy-deskers out-performed the tidy in tasks, critically with greater creativity (28pc more in fact, in tests to think up new uses for ping-pong balls).

For those citing research claiming tidy deskers were viewed in more favourable light by colleagues and more likely to get promoted, others pointed to findings that output is measurably 'better' from those with untidy desks.

Six years back now, FT Undercover Economist Tim Harford covered how it is not the tidiness rating that signals a person's work score, but the extent to which they are allowed to run their own space themselves.

Going one step further and evoking the famed Building 20 at MIT. A wholly mouldable workplace, which from inception in 1943 went on to outstrip all others for impact.

When it comes to our sales sanctum, for me it is not whether it is neat or not. It is fundamentally that it enables us to fully function.

I always rail when I see cubicle dividers adorned with little more than a printout of internal telephone numbers, the often trivial personal 'certificate', and latest 'poster' from marketing, HR or corporate comms HQ. Yet such is rife.

Not everyone has the available vertical real estate to go full moodboard, dreamboard or vision board. Also inspiration, case or Lennon walls. Let alone new entries like the moon collage.

But - as was Number 1 of my 52 Ways To Get What You Want From Virtual Meetings - I am a proud meezer.

So we can have our process markers near eye-level[*]. Likewise our best conversational starters, keywords to use, numerical testimony aka metrics.

A bunch a diagrams to hand. A pile of stories from which we can quote. A wad of printed pics we can show and see.

Utensils that add sparkle to our ad hoc videoing. Like clipboard, thick markers, non-white sheets of paper.

Space for scrap paper or a doodle pad. A reporter's jotter pad for writing single words or phrase, or writ large numbers.

Close to hand, your contracts, sign-up papers or any SLA type reassurance you may need to read out loud to someone or riff on.

And last but not least, somewhere in view, the problem that you resolve. How you make the world a better place, for whom, and by how much.

How's your workspace stack up against that?

[* this makes the single biggest difference between the achievers and the rest]

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