I could argue that not putting things away is just a sure-fire sign of a lazy bugger, but that would be overly simplifying the matter, of course. As usual, the truth lies probably somewhere in the middle, and a general reasoning doesn’t quite fit every situation. Let’s analyse our conundrum for a moment, then.
Mr. Abrahamson claims that the creative mind is tickled by random coincidences when informational titbits of all manner come together in unpredictable ways. That could be two news items following each other, or two bits of paper sitting next to each other, or two people we meet in short order, … and by the simple coincidence certain synapses fire and bring up a novel idea or we make a connection through association. While that is most certainly true – and I can vouch for such things happening myself – it is not entirely dependent on such coincidence, even if it might precipitate such instances.
Is that enough to warrant leaving everything lying around any old way? Is it enough to allow your kids to leave the place in utter disarray after they have finished playing (because cleaning up would be stifling their creative minds)? And does this really translate into an office environment, at home or – worse even – in a corporate office?
There may be a point in making a distinction between the private home or home office on the one hand, and a working environment office on the other hand, after all. For one thing, at home you would usually work on your own and nobody than you will ever need to locate any of the papers on that enormous, random pile. If you feel that you can find everything at home, that’s most certainly fine, but just imagine a secretary trying to find that one elusive file hidden somewhere in half a dozen meter high piles of papers when her boss is away and a colleague desperately needs a file? Believe me, I have BEEN that person, and I have seen others having hysterics in that process! It’s not a pretty sight is all I’m saying.
Sharing information with others requires a certain level of organised filing, especially when it comes to active processes, where others might need to access paperwork at short notice. And a slapdash approach to piling up papers is most certainly not conducive to speeding up things in that situation.
Now let’s address the time issue mentioned before: is it really more time-consuming to spend a short amount of time regularly to file papers away properly, than it is to pack them on a pile and then potentially spend a lot of time locating what you need? Keep in mind: while locating one file you have to dislocate a number of others that will invariably end up in unexpected locations in the process… leading to longer search times along the line. Who knows? I’d assume that proper filing is always advantageous as it kills two flies with one slap: not only will YOU be able to find things easily, but others will as well. Also: the retrieval process relies on memory, and thus demands that only one person ever touches the piles of paper. No delegating talks possible.
And the issues of ‘creativity’ and ‘practicality’ are not all there is to say about this. There is something to be said about an organised desk (note: I’m not talking about the empty desk policy, that is a different discussion altogether): it allows you to get started with whatever you need to do without delay. You can put down the stuff you need to finish the task without having to move other stuff out of the way (and losing time in the process?).
Besides that, there is also a psychological process at work here: every bit of paperwork sitting on your desk could appear to be indicating that something needs to be done, or that there is something in there you may have lost track of (like that electricity bill you need to pay). In my book, those papers constitute more of a distraction than a creative incubator. That’s not to say a desk should be devoid of stuff. There is a spectrum to organisation that ranges from one extreme of a desk of utter chaos in danger of breaking down, to the pristine and anti-septic landscape garden of a desktop blighted with an unrelenting clean desk policy.
As mentioned before, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle: a modicum of (albeit creative) chaos mixed with a level of organisation that allows for getting things done without too much ado. And to me that would indicate a certain amount of filing. There are two kinds of disorganised: one is called ‘a bloody mess’ resulting from neglect and just not taking care of things (and you’d be hard put to find anything in here), the other one being ‘organised chaos’ that allows for proper work within the confines of only one person working here and no information being shared. And while the ‘bloody mess’ category can be found everywhere, in my own extensive experience ‘organised chaos’ is in extremely short supply.
[The book was published in 2008 and it contains a lot of examples and ‘success stories’ of grand ideas sparked by creative chaos. I can only hope it was meant to be entertaining rather than educational.]
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.