The Case for Finally Cleaning your Desk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch


The physical environment of the workplace has a significant effect on the way that we work. When our space is a mess, so are we.

That is certainly true from a simple logistical perspective: we lose precious work minutes every time we go searching for a lost paper on a cluttered desk. The same is true for those of us who have succeeded in becoming paperless at work: one international survey showed that information workers lose up to two hours a week fruitlessly searching for lost digital documents.

But clutter can also affect us in more indirect ways. My research and that of others has shown that our physical environments significantly influence our cognition, emotions, and behavior, affecting our decision-making and relationships with others. Cluttered spaces can have negative effects on our stress and anxiety levels, as well as our ability to focus, our eating choices, and even our sleep. Much of the research (and much of the public enthusiasm) around tidiness and clutter is currently focused on the home, but with workplace stress costing American businesses up to $190 billion every year in health care costs alone, it’s time to recognize the role that clutter plays in our work lives — and to do something to clean up the mess.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHarvard Business Review
Early online date25 Mar 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Mar 2019


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