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My Messy Desk…3 Tips for Managing Overwhelm

| March 9, 2022

Feeling overwhelmed with the workspace around you? Do you have a messy desk? You are not alone. Read on to learn why that messy desk may not be the worst thing and my own 3 tips for managing overwhelm. 

My Messy Desk

Do you have a messy desk? While I love to have everything in front of me organized and in its place, I find I do my best work with a messy desk. While it may look like chaos to you, I can tell you where everything is and in what order in that pile of papers. Need a stamp? The stamp book is to my left under the pile of notecards and my journal. Looking for that important piece of mail that arrived two days ago? It is sitting in my pineapple-shaped bowl that my friend gave me from her trip to Hawaii- yes it is covered by an HDMI cord, my hearing aid batteries, and my kids’ latest Highlights magazine, but if you ask for it or when I need it, I know exactly where to find it. 

I am definitely embarrassed by my messy desk, but years ago my dad (who also had a messy desk!) told me “Hey- Einstein had a messy desk!” I took solace in the fact that if a genius could do his work amidst chaos then there was hope for me! I did a little research and found that Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs also had messy desks. I hope you release a little shame knowing that too!

While the world likes to believe that an organized workspace means more productivity, science shows that is not always true. In fact, a study conducted by psychology scientist Kathleen Vohs and others at the University of Minnesota found that people were productive in both a clean and messy environment, but those that brainstormed amidst the chaos of a messy environment came up with more creative and out of the box solutions. Here is a summary of their experiment: 

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” Vohs concludes. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

My messy desk may not be as awful as I think it is…

3 Tips for Managing Overwhelm

There are times when the messy desk becomes too much. When the “in motion” projects at home are no longer exciting but begin to weigh on my mental health. The overwhelm gets to be too much and I have to do something. From being a lifetime “messy desk” person, here are my 3 tips for managing overwhelm. 

  1. Create a List. I am a huge fan of making lists so much so that I wrote a blog about it. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I will make a list of all my current projects and tasks. Then I take it one step further and label them. I use the codes “N” and “F.” “N” stands for a need as in I need to get that done. Sometimes it is because of a deadline or simply the fact that the dishes are really piling up. “F” stands for fun. Not that all of my projects are just for fun, but some are much more enjoyable to me. Then I alternate getting an “N” task done then an “F” task done. At the end I feel very accomplished and have not felt like I am working quite so much. 
  1. Commit to 15 Minutes. I learned this tip from Shira Gill, author of the book Minimalista. (I find it ironic that I am writing a blog about my messy desk and citing an author of a book on minimalism!) She calls it the 15 minute win. Pick a project you may be stuck on or just don’t want to do but need to get it done and set a timer for 15 minutes. Then get to work focusing entirely on it. This 15-minute win has worked for me too many times to count. No, I may not complete it before the timer goes off, but I find myself moving forward at such a pace that I keep going and get it completed!
  1. Change Your Scenery. Sometimes in the midst of all my beautiful chaos, I have to just walk away for a while. I go for a walk or just sit outside in the sun. Sometimes I get away for longer, but I always come back feeling better and ready to tackle the things in front of me. I am not talking about a mini-vacation but when you stare at your messy desk and projects for so long you begin to grow immune to them. Stepping away gives you a fresh perspective. 

If you are like me and thrive in organized chaos around you, I hope you are encouraged by this post. If you are super organized and horrified at disordered spaces, maybe you can understand us a little bit better! Are you a messy desk person? Do you have any tips for managing overwhelm? I would love to hear them!

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