It has long been asserted that if you are to achieve optimum efficiency, then keeping your desk tidy and free of clutter is of vital importance. The theory is that if important documents are safely filed and desktop distractions are kept to a minimum, then tasks will be completed properly, in good time, and to the best of your ability. However, a newly conducted survey seems to contradict this long-stated mantra.

The survey, conducted by office design firm Herman Miller, focused on what they call ‘Work Masters’, which basically translates to meaning the most productive of employees. According to those involved, the survey categorically indicates that “neatness and organisation are not the same thing”, and many have in fact been approaching the issue incorrectly all their working lives.

Firstly, the report states that those with more of an inclination toward organisation may end up storing significant quantities of unnecessary information, making it all the more difficult the find that which they require. On the other hand, ‘pilers’ - those who tend to appear as though they’ve just strewn documents across their desk - improve efficiency as more urgent documents naturally work their way to the top of the pile as tasks are completed and/or reprioritised. HR News appropriately describes this inadvertent filing system as akin to a form of real-life RAM (Random Access Memory).

This obviously works better for an individual than it does for a group of several members each needing an understanding of where important documents are kept, but ‘pilers’ apparently have other advantages over ‘filers’ that help balance this out. For instance, the reports states that the more organised among us can often fall into the trap of ‘premature filing’, resulting in documents being stored away before they are properly examined and understood. Those who seem disorganised actually tend to have a good idea of exactly where everything is, and are reportedly better at recalling key information.

‘Filers’ are also more likely to duplicate work, according to a behavioural study conducted by AT&T Labs, as various documents may be stored in multiple locations or folders, leading to confusion as to which tasks still require completion.

It is further suggested that many tasks deemed important by the obsessively-organised are in fact substantial wastes of time, as they spend lengthy periods simply filing rather than actually completing the necessary tasks. One given example is the practice of separating emails into folders, subfolders, and a few more folders, as the search function provided by most email applications is in fact a much more efficient and time-effective way to locate important emails.

Ultimately, neither approach is likely to work for all members of your workforce. While additional organisation may be beneficial in group projects and collaborative tasks, allowing staff the freedom to organise as they see fit in regards to personal tasks and documents could provide a decent productivity boost. Some desks will remain spotless, others will fill with clutter, but your workforce as a whole will be all the better at managing individual workloads as a result.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.
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