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What Does Your Workspace Say About You?

Some of you aren’t going to like this article. I can hear you now:

“Chrissy, who cares that my desk looks like a tornado hit it? I can find everything I need and that’s all that matters.”

I’ve got a sobering newsflash, my friend. Brace yourself.

My response to that argument? Nope. Wrong. Not true. That’s not all that matters. Organization is as much about others as it is about you.

Specifically, it’s about how others see you.

Your organizational habits (or lack thereof) provide visible clues about who you are and what you bring to the table. People mentally associate organization with a whole host of other traits, including:

  • Maturity
  • Discipline
  • Competence
  • Engagement
  • Intelligence
  • Value
  • Drive
  • Focus
  • Work Ethic

Here’s the rub: It’s not necessarily true. Organized people aren’t necessarily any more mature, competent, or intelligent than the next guy.

It’s not always accurate to say that this organized person is a better worker than that disorganized person, but that’s what our subconscious brain is telling us. That’s the perception.

And perception is reality.

If people perceive you as something, they treat you that way. They look for confirmation that you ARE that way. So this can work for you or against you in the workplace. It benefits the organized people and creates enormous unspoken obstacles for the disorganized ones.

Here’s what I mean:

Walking past your desk, the CEO of your company sees a clean surface, clearly labeled files, a neat stack of paperwork, an orderly system for managing tasks.

“Wow,” he thinks. ‘This person is clearly on top of it.”

In those 5 seconds, a perception was born.

Now, imagine it this way…

Walking past your desk, the CEO sees overwhelming piles of paper, post-it notes stuck to every surface, beanie babies perched on shelves, coffee cups tucked behind folders hidden behind photos stacked on top of books holding down a big ball of tangled cords.

“Wow,” he thinks. “That’s disgusting.”

Maybe he wonders how you find anything. Maybe he gives you the benefit of the doubt that YOU know your system. But then he wonders what happens when you’re out of the office. How do your co-workers find anything? Maybe he wonders if you take your job seriously, or if you’d rather be working at the beanie baby factory down the street.  Maybe he thinks about doing something else with your office space…

I know it sounds like a stretch, but this is the world we live in. Impressions are made in seconds. We judge people by how they present themselves and, like it or not, your workspace and organizational habits are a part of that.

I’m sure some people will come back to me with this popular retort:

“If a cluttered desk indicates a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk say?”

So let me clarify: No one is saying you have to go to extremes. Just aim for visible order. You may be surprised to find that you’re actually more efficient when all that crap is out of the way.

Personally, I do in fact believe that good organizational habits tend to boost performance in the workplace, whether you clutter-bugs out there like to hear it or not. I don’t think it’s ALL about image.

But, to those people who rely on the old “I can find anything” motto as they sink behind the pile of rubble that was once a desk, let me say this: Please fix the issue for others, if not yourself. Their perceptions are impacting you and your career, and it’s totally within your control.

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7 Responses to “What Does Your Workspace Say About You?”

  1. Kim Menezes says:

    I do agree with your philosophy on this Chrissy, and I also have a 20+ year career of being an “anal” queen when it comes to my work environment. I spend 8+ hours a day in it and how it is organized to be as effective as possible is very important to me. I am envious of co-workers who can work in a mess and reach into large piles and pull out what they need, but the “perception” of others is the key. And, I can’t help but think that those who choose to work in a messy environment are additionally burdened with extra stress as a result of being surrounded by extraneous and unnecessary stuff.

  2. Ruth says:

    I always get high marks for my organization skills on my review & my desk is organized. What prompted me to write is what about co-workers with, say, 50 stuffed frogs, or posters of beers, 50 pix of their kids & grandkids & everyone else’s kids & grandkids, 15 different clocks (or whatever) at their desk/cube/office. I am not talking about a few frogs or pictures or 1 clock…. but say over 10. Am I the only one that finds this distracting? It detracts from their professionalism to me, but I am thinking maybe I am being too critical so am asking for others input. Again I am not talking about the few personal trinkets but rather the over-the-top volumes of personal items. Their desks may be organized & neat but it’s like “attack of the killer personal stuff” when I visit them for whatever work-related reason.

  3. Rachael says:

    I have the honor of sitting in the reception area of my offices (yes, a little snarkiness!) even though I am the CFO’s assistant and anyone, I do mean anyone, can walk into my office at any time. What my work area looks like is very important. About every two or three months I walk to the other side of my desk,walk into my office as if I were a guest. Are the pictures straight? How does my furniture look, comfy or ragged? When I stand at my return and look at what a guest sees when they are talking to me, what do they see? The first few times was real eye opener! I immediately cleared off the “to be filed” pile to a drawer, took the stickies and funny eye stickers off my scanner, but did leave the aligator staple puller on my printer. Business cards and a cute little bottle of fairy dust are all a guest will see when they scan my area. This is my home away from home, but it is also on loan to me from my employer. I feel a sense of responsibility to treat the area with respect and my guests and co-workers, hopefully, feel the respect and effort I put into welcoming them.

  4. N says:

    “You either actively manage their perceptions or their perceptions will actively manage YOU.” When we enter the business world we enter the arena of Get Real. This is not a dorm room or a child’s bedroom i.e. private space. It is all about business and how others perceive us. Being neat and tidy, modern and exhibiting quality sets us apart. We can all raise our standards a little bit each time and look at our space like a guest would.

  5. Chrissy Scivicque says:

    I should of known my amazing audience would see things my way :)

    Glad to know that you guys are already on top of this.

    @Kim — I totally agree. The added stress is so unnecessary! And it’s totally within their control!

    @Ruth — I am SO scared of this workspace you’re talking about! It sounds totally inappropriate and, well, weird. You know you’re not the only one who notices if it’s that bad. Stay away if you can. Sounds like some hoarding might be happening!

    @Rachael — I agree that it is a sign of respect for your guests/co-workers to keep your space in shape. Look at Ruth’s comment and you’ll see! She feels totally overwhelmed and distracted when she walks into her co-workers office!

    @N — Yep. The workplace is NOT your home. Seems obvious, but for some reason, a lot of people just don’t get it. The “guest” point-of-view is a good one…If someone else would feel uncomfortable in your area, it’s time for improvements.

  6. Jei-Nhy says:

    I’m on the same bandwagon & happy to see I’m in good company. I agree 100% with the article as well as everyone here. To me, professionalism translates into neat, clean, & organized. A messy desk, no matter if you know where things are, just doesn’t give that impression. You have to remember that you’re marketing yourself to you co-workers, your boss, your visitors constantly. A messy-looking desk just doesn’t advertise professionalism–I’m neat, I’m clean, I’m on top of it.

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