||The Brazen Careerist
You can judge a person by
their work space
Here's a way to kill your career:
Have a messy office.
These are things that people with messy offices say:
My work gets done; I know where everything is; People are too concerned
All these things could be true. But here is what is
also true: If your desk is a mess you look like you're totally out
The FBI has known for decades that you can judge someone
by their workspace, which is why the FBI has special investigators
who visit the offices of criminals. The FBI doesn't publish data
on this type of investigation, but the University of Texas does.
And a study conducted there found that people with messy offices
are less efficient, less organized and less imaginative than people
with clean desks.
Some of you who are stubborn (and delusional) are
saying, "So what? That's not me." But even if you are
definitely sure that you are as efficient in your messy office as
your neighbor is in her clean office, your co-workers don't see
it that way; The study also found that people perceived messy workers
to be inefficient, unimaginative workers.
A messy desk undermines your career in subtle ways.
If you are the owner of the company, you give the impression that
you cannot handle your position and the company is in trouble. If
you are in middle management, when someone is giving away a plum
assignment, she does not think of you because you give the impression
that it will go into a pile and never come out. Even if you get
every project done well, the perception will be that you don't.
Still not convinced? Would you ever go to work in
striped pants and a striped shirt? Why not? You could still do your
job. But people would not perceive that you could still do your
job because appearances are powerful, and someone who dresses in
a goofy, unconventional way does not inspire confidence. Appearances
matter, and the desk in your office is as important as the clothes
on your back.
Managers, take note: This study goes both ways. So
if you are thinking of promoting someone, you are probably making
the wrong decision if the person's desk is a mess. Either they are
in over their head, or they do not care, but either way they will
not instill confidence in the people below them. In most cases,
messy deskers should be passed up for someone who is neat.
Take a tip from GE, a company known for developing
outstanding managers throughout its ranks. GE requires everyone
to have a sparkling clean desk each night when they go home. This
makes sense: GE attempts to make everyone a potential manager by
preventing people from undermining themselves.
Some of you might call this rule draconian. I can
hear you now, "A messy desk is an expression of who I am."
This is probably true. I believe that a messy desk is a reflection
of what is in someone's head. But you need a clear head to be creative
and efficient in ways that make your work a reflection of your best
So take some time this month to clean up your
office and create an organized system for maintaining cleanliness.
If GE refuses to keep messy desks in its ranks, then you should,
too. Start with your own, and then take a look at the people who
report to you.
-- Posted: Jan. 13, 2003