Monday, January 15, 2007

Organization of Desks

Desk organization was the topic my group discussed in a presentation to the class on Saturday. It was based on Thomas W. Malone's article published in 1983 entitled “How do people organize their desks.”in ACM Transactions on Information Systems (TOIS).1 #1 99-112.

I found an article in the New York Times published last month entitled
Say Yes to Mess
which quoted more recent research, some of which contradicted what was in the article published over 20 years ago.

One key finding was that a messy desk can increase creativity because it allows one to see connections one might otherwise miss. I don't think I made this clear because some of my classmates misinterpreted this to mean that those people who had neat desks were not creative, which clearly is not true.

Some also seemed unable to distinguish between neatness/messiness and organized/disorganized. It's very possible to have a neat desk which is disorganized if the files are ambiguously labeled or disorganized within the file drawer, for example. The desk may look neat but it's actually hiding the fact that it would be difficult to find what one is looking for. It's also possible to have a messy desk which is organized but perhaps not in a way that word is conventionally used. Papers may be piled in stacks or arranged in ways which, to the casual viewer, may appear to be haphazard but the desk owner may have a very specific and unique way of organizing that is not easily apparent to others. Organization is important but messiness or neatness is not what one should be examining. Michael did make a great point, however, that it is easier to access materials in someone else's desk if it is organized conventionally; people would have trouble finding what they needed if they didn't know or understand one's personal organizing style.