Who’s to say a little chaos isn’t a good thing? With the latest research showing disorder might actually make you more successful at work, RISING enlists a top professor to reveal the ways in which being scatter-brained could improve your 9-5…
Spreadsheet Warrior VS Post-It Scatterer Albert Einstein once asked: ‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?’ You don’t need a blackboard and chalk to work out what the physics genius was getting at there. For centuries mankind has been split into two camps: that of the super-organised, sponge-like minds soaking everything in, and that of the scatter-brained variety, skittish but able to spin a Greek restaurant’s worth of plates.
But any idea that the super-organised have a fast-track to success could now be banished for good, after a recent study by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research found that our brains are actively working to forget, optimising intelligence and decision-making by only holding onto valuable information. One man who isn’t at all surprised is Professor Eric Abrahamson, professor at Columbia University’s Business School and co-author of Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder. ‘People are typically guilty about disorder,’ he tells RISING. ‘But it can make you more efficient, better at your job, and people who are more orderly will not have the impact you do. You need to rid yourself of guilt over mess, this reflex that overly messy people underperform, and understand the benefits.’
You’re Less Likely To Miss Your Big Moment Whether you’re launching a startup or praying to the HR Gods that you’ll be headhunted by Christmas, whenever a good opportunity presents itself you need to be ready to pounce – a trait Abrahamson believes is more likely to be found in those with disorderly schedules: ‘Workers who improvise their agenda also tend to be more open to new experiences.’
One successful man who lives by this mantra is Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austria’s finest, as the Prof reveals: ‘Early on his career, if a person came by his office who was interesting he’d give them two hours. If they weren’t interesting him, he’d have them out of the door within five minutes. It’s a major possibility that Arnold’s career itself became so messy over time – weightlifter, actor, governor – because his schedule is messy, allowing him to be flexible and grasp opportunities when others wouldn’t, like a director walking into his gym. He does create order, just at a time when it’s beneficial for him.’
Disorder Saves You Serious Time Still tinkering with that Excel worksheet for weeks upon end like a Microsoft Michelangelo? You might want to stretch your focus a little: ‘The argument here is simple,’ says Abrahamson. ‘It’s not free to create order, it takes time, attention and money. Conversely of course, disorder has the benefit of efficiency – would you rather let ten things pile up on your desk and file in one trip, or file something 20 separate times? Plus, employees with messier workspaces, working across various projects, will find things more easily because documents are in reaching distance.’
A clean desk can make people think, this guy is doing nothing – where does he find time to clean his desk?
A ‘Creatively Arranged’ Desk Can Be A Powerful Symbol Better yet, a messy desk can even send out positive messages to bosses and co-workers: ‘If you work in a very routine job, where you do the same thing over and over, a clean desk may be efficient,’ says Abrahamson. ‘But in highly demanding jobs such as banking, journalism, architecture and so on, a clean desk can make people think: “This guy is doing nothing – where do they find time to clean their desk?” Whereas, symbolically, a messy desk also makes you look like you’re working hard. I once met a CEO who had two offices; one in which he did his work, completely chaotic and creative, and another where he met clients, which was very orderly.’
Time management can be an illusion – it’s one for an orderly world, not a disorderly one
Timekeeping Can Be On Your Clock ‘The notion of time management can be an illusion,’ stresses Abrahamson. ‘It’s one for an orderly world, not a disorderly world. But if you work in a world with a lot of order, make it work for you – take new opportunities, ask the boss if you can work remotely, or take a project home and work in the evening, if that works for you.’ Ultimately Abrahamson says the key to it all is not to be completely messy or completely orderly. If you’re scatter-brained It’s finding that, ‘sweet spot that works for you – much depends on the cost benefit of that order and how much creativity you need.’
WHAT NEXT? Worried you might have excelled too far at being scatter-brained? Don’t stress, there are plenty of counters. Abrahamson recommends something called SCRUM. ‘It’s where you think of all the requirements of the task and give yourself a date it needs to be done by, and the closer you get to the date you can drop requirements of the task one by one.’