Why Leaders Clean Their Desks

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By Jas Singh

When I first began my career in The City as a twenty something, one of my mentors was a successful CEO of a Fintech company. (Fintech is the industry name given to technology companies that sell to financial services companies).

He always had time for me. In fact he seemed to have time for everything – run a 1,500 person global business, be a non-exec director for two other well established companies, lecture at a local business school, patron at a charity, as well as be a successful family man.

One time, I asked him how he managed to become so productive. I’ll never forget his answer: “It seems really simple Jas, but at the end of every day I schedule 5 minutes to clean my desk. Make sure everything is looking tidy. It’s much more appealing to come back to the next day”.

Hardly rocket science. Very simple. But how clean is your desk right now?

It’s often said that a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind.

It’s easy to see why. In today’s ever competitive world, all of us have to be more efficient than ever – more organised, more cleaner, more productive. Whether it’s our desks, our outlook calendars or the notice board in the kitchen, tidiness and organisation increases performance. In today’s world even a 2% increase in performance can be the difference between satisfactory and excellent.

Here are a few reasons why great leaders ensure they have a tidy desk.

It creates efficiency

As human beings we tend to over estimate how capable we are – especially around anything to do with mental abilities such as memory and prioritizing. And so for many of us we tend to try and do things “ad hoc” – turn up to work each day, work as hard a possible but rely purely on our intuition, endless to-do lists and memory to get us by.

With a large workload, this is unsustainable. Ever realised something is important, promised to do it the next day, put a reminder in your calendar, but only remembered the same time next day when it’s too late?! Ever made the same mistake over and over for days in a row?!

The more cleaner and organised you are, the more efficient you will be. The clearer your tasks will be at the beginning of the day, the easier you will be able to notice things that are a priority, the less distracted you will become.

A tidy desk is an efficient one.

It reduces stress

Ever been overwhelmed by the look of your desk or your inbox? Do the endless missed reminders, scheduled calls and things to do make you frustrated? Is your screen covered in post-it notes?

Clutter and mess has been shown by numerous studies to increase levels of stress.

Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.

Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on.

Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.

Despite what we think, as humans we crave order and simplicity. Although our brains are excellent at storing diverse types of information quickly, when it comes to actually doing we prefer simplicity and order.

Top achievers are organised and tidy so they don’t get overwhelmed.

They complete one task at a time to the best of their ability.

Untidiness repels others

Listen mate I hear you say. I’ve always been a bit disorganised. My desk has always been a bit messy, my calendar usually cluttered. But it’s who I am – I might even prefer it that way.

And that’s fair enough. Except perhaps the most important reason why it is important for all of us to remain clean and tidy in the workplace is that encourages co-operation with others.

Or put another way, a messy desk stresses others out.

Amazingly in a study published by the office supplier Staples a couple years ago, one-in-four people in the UK have even had a formal complaint made about the state of their desks by another colleague! Sure, I know as a nation we’re probably fussier than most when it comes to tidiness and order, but you get the picture….

No-one wants to work with someone who is untidy and disorganised. It creates the impression of unreliability. Especially in today’s open planned offices, it’s important to let others know everything is under control.

A tidy desk is appealing to others.

Conclusion

Organisation and focus is essential to success in any calling.

Hiring managers can gain much from those who are tidy, organised and reliable.

Could your desk be cleaner?

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