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Can a Desk Really Change Your Life?

Picture the desks of two workers: the first is incredibly messy, with papers and writing utensils loosely disseminated over its surface, and items obstructing the view of the monitor. The second, on the other hand, is incredibly neat, with every item in its place, a filing cabinet storing the items that are not essential to everyday use on the desk, and a clear, clean space to type and use the computer to its entire potential. Think about the people that use these desks for a minute – which one do you think is more successful?

It’s time to investigate the link between the desk you sit at and the results you achieve. Does orderliness really breed success? Or does a messy desk offer its own type of rewards? Read on to find out.

The Productivity Question

Clutter is often thought of as a nuisance. But  new research from the University at Buffalo suggests that clutter actually stimulates creativity. Kathleen Vohs, the scientist and professor behind the study, first noticed the effect while working on her Ph.D. She was moving offices during her studies and observed that the new environment influenced her test subjects. So she decided to investigate further. Her findings revealed that in messy spaces, people were far more likely to generate novel solutions to problems. In fact, they came up with 5 times as many creative answers as those in neat environments.

“Cluttered brains can lead to all kinds of pathways and solutions.“ — Dr. Vohs.

Some of history’s greatest innovators worked from messy workspaces. After Albert Einstein passed away, journalist Ralph Morse visited his office at the Institute of Advanced Study. He found his desk littered with stacks upon stacks of papers. Einstein once  said, “if a cluttered desk is indicative of a cluttered mind—of what, then, is a clean desk a sign?“. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Toby Hsieh all have been known to work from messy desks.

Creativity requires an active mind. If you're going to be creative, you need to think about what you're working on. You need to let ideas percolate through your head. And you need to write them down. But the connection between thinking and writing isn't always direct. There's evidence that suggests that the brain works differently when we're engaged in creative activities than when we're simply doing routine mental processing. In other words, when we're engaged in a creative activity, our brains are more likely to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. That means that if you're trying to get yourself fired up for a project, you may need to change your environment.

There are many studies that show that clutter leads to increased productivity. For example, when you clean your workspace, you increase your ability to focus. When you keep your desk organized, you are less likely to get distracted. A cluttered desk may even help you solve problems more efficiently.Creativity is often associated with increased levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in motivation and reward processing. Dopamine also helps regulate attention and memory, which may explain why you feel like you need more time to think when you're under stress.

Clean Workspace, Cleaner Lifestyle?

On the other end of the spectrum, there are studies showing that clutter can actually help you make smarter choices. In a  recent experiment conducted at Stanford University, researchers found that when people are in a messy environment, they tend to choose unhealthy foods like cookies and chips. However, when they moved to a tidy room, they made healthy food choices instead. Researchers believe that the reason behind this is because people feel less stressed when surrounded by clutter. As a result, they're able to focus on the task at hand.

In that very same vein, when asked if they wanted to donate to charity, clean room participants were twice as likely to say yes as those in the cluttered room. The researchers speculate that because the clean room participants had spent time cleaning their rooms, they felt compelled to help others out. They also note that the study was conducted at an engineering school, so there could be other factors influencing the results.

Organization and Stress: Are They Related?


Cognitive psychologist Daniel J. Levinson explores the evolution of the modern mind and how we can organize our brains and lives in an era of information overload. Our brains can organize themselves through memory. We can remember things that happened before, and we can also create memories of future events. Memory is organized by context, meaning that if you see something again, your brain will recognize that it belongs together. When we think about something, our brain creates neural pathways that connect it to other things. If we see something again, our brain connects that thing to all the other things that were connected to it before. Our brain then links the new stuff to the old stuff. This helps us to categorize things and remember them easier.

For some of us, the act of organizing our spaces helps reduce stress. And that, itself, has the power to increase productivity. When we feel stressed, and pulled in different directions, organizing our space may help us get back on track. Organizing our desktops, filing cabinets, closets, and drawers can also help us regain focus.

Organizing your space can reduce stress. But if you're not careful, it can also distract you. Organizing your desk, for example, can help you get organized, but it can also cause you to miss important messages. So before you start organizing, consider what will happen when you're done. Will you be more focused? More productive? Or just more distracted?

It’s not just about keeping your stuff organized, but also about what you keep in your life. When you organize your thoughts, you create an environment that helps you focus and think clearly. You get rid of all the unnecessary distractions and clutter that might interfere with your productivity.

Organizing your space may reduce stress. This could be because you get rid of distractions and focus on what matters. Or maybe it helps you stay organized and focused. Either way, when you're feeling overwhelmed, getting your space organized can give you a boost. There is no better desk to give you this boost than the  RISEDESK Rise Standing Desk. Unlock its benefits, and start to rise today.

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More about the author

Lily Cooper

Writer at RISEDESK

Lily is a Rotman Commerce student at the University of Toronto, and is the Creative Content Writer at Risedesk. Pursuing minors in English and Economics, Lily is also the Film and TV Representative at RCEM, and has a passion for journalism, literature, and entertainment.