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Organised Chaos vs. Disorganised Order

My inability to be neat and organised has been a source of mild anxiety to me, not because it hampers my efficiency and productivity (in fact quite the opposite) but because of the pressure from my peers to be organised. Why does everyone else appear to have neat and tidy workspaces, everything hidden away in cross referenced filing systems – I put it down to not having enough work to do..!

My working desk is a pile of ideas written on scraps of paper, tearsheets of inspiration hastily torn from magazines, randomly scattered post-it notes of things to do – I could go on but it will give me a headache..! This real world anarchy is mirrored in my virtual space where my mac desktop is as crowded as a Costa del Sol beach in July, with folders and files fighting for any available space.

People who are familiar with my work are surprised at this as most of my design features pared down simplicity with an emphasis on functionality – devoid of anything superfluous.

Well apparently it’s ok – I need worry no more nor feel shame as there are others who feel the same as me about this unhealthy obsession with neatness. The evidence is to be found in this article in the always excellent Jugglezine — I quote:

“Cognitive scientists have theories about why messy is sometimes more productive than neat. Psychologist Alison Kidd suggests that piles of paper and other objects arrayed on a desk or other surface may represent ideas that people ‘cannot yet categorize or even decide how they might use.’

Observational studies find that people who file away their papers tend to amass more information of questionable value and to access their documents less frequently than people who pile their information on desktops and other surfaces. In their zeal to keep their desktops pristine, neat freaks often archive information before they are sure it is something they need to keep and before they know how and when they might use it. Without a clear idea of why they might eventually access documents, filers tend to categorize them in ways that later make it difficult to retrieve them.

Pilers, on the other hand, seem to have easier access to information they need because frequently used documents tend to move to the tops of their piles, while less relevant material moves down and is eventually discarded.”

I have to concur with this. When I do occasionally have a blitz and file stuff away I can subsequently never find anything and I find a neat and bare working environment somewhat uninspiring. It’s as if I need the stimulation of being surrounded by random notes and ideas to be creative. Stumbling across a forgotten tearsheet can spark off an idea or a train of thought that can break the occasional creative doldrums. Neatness is the enemy of serendipity.

I think D H Lawrence summed this up nicely in this passage:

“Man fixes some wonderful erection of his own between himself and the wild chaos, and gradually goes bleached and stifled under his parasol. Then comes a poet, enemy of convention, and makes a slit in the umbrella; and lo! the glimpse of chaos is a vision, a window to the sun.”

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