Like a person in a drunken stupor, I careen between bouts of messiness and sterile order. My physical work environment is becoming more and more sterile as I gain skills that allow me to file documents on my computer. The evolution poses a new problem, however. I sometimes get lost in the Cloud of the virtual world and struggle to find what I’m searching for.
Life was different when I was a teacher and assigned a composition a week to 150 students. My desk was a platform for stacks of papers so dense I doubt the NSA could track any material. One colleague described my room as a scene of classical disorder. Others, less charitable, might have referred to it as “a mess.” But I needn’t have fretted. Writer Rebecca Greenfield assures me I was in good company. Albert Einstein, Alexander Fleming, who gave us penicillin, and Abraham Lincoln all wallowed in classical disorder.( “Chaos Theories,” by Rebecca Greenfield, Bloomberg Businessweek, Sept 25-Oct 7, 2016, pg. 78.) Greenfield’s thesis is that chaos is a type of filing system because the papers you touch most often, being important, tend to end up at or near the top of the pile. (Ibid pg. 78.)
Research shows that employers have failed to grasp the virtue of classical disorder. They tend to promote people whose desks are clear. (Ibid pg. 78.) Rather than see an empty workplace as the reflection of an empty mind, they see it as the reflection of an efficient one. So, employees take note. To climb the ladder of success, dump your disorder into a drawer each night before you go home. Who knows? By morning, you may discover some connections among all those papers and connection is the basis of creativity, as Einstein, Fleming and Abraham Lincoln have already shown.
The most productive environment, according to Greenfield, is on that gives an employee a measure of control. Beyond bringing a potted plant to work and pictures of the family, allowing people to work in a way that makes them feel comfortable is crucial. As one study showed, “People toiling away without any control over their surroundings not only hated their work but …but also complained of physical discomfort, such as feeling too warm.” (Ibid pg. 78.)
Given Greenfield’s advice, one would think I was enjoying the best of both worlds, real and virtual My desk is clear. My computer is crammed with files. But why can’t I find anything? I feel so out of control.