Tip of the Week: Leave Your Desk Messy


Spend too much time worrying about getting your desk perfectly clean and your work perfectly excellent and you might put yourself at risk for psychological problems.

A slavish devotion to perfection can be psychologically unhealthy, according to Benedict Carey writing for The New York Times:

[Several] recent studies stand as a warning against taking the platitudes of achievement too seriously. The new research focuses on a familiar type, perfectionists, who panic or blow a fuse when things don’t turn out just so. The findings not only confirm that such purists are often at risk for mental distress — as Freud, Alfred Adler and countless exasperated parents have long predicted — but also suggest that perfectionism is a valuable lens through which to understand a variety of seemingly unrelated mental difficulties, from depression to compulsive behavior to addiction.

Some people are such perfectionists that their behavior borders on clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder, says Alice Provost, an employee assistance counselor at the University of California, quoted in the article.

What’s the solution? Allowing yourself to do less than the best, to be less than perfect:

Leave work on time. Don’t arrive early. Take all the breaks allowed. Leave the desk a mess. Allow yourself a set number of tries to finish a job; then turn in what you have.

I don’t feel my desk must be perfectly clean, but I do tend towards perfectionism in my writing, so I’ve been experimenting with timeboxing to get articles finished.

What are you a perfectionist about and what do you plan to do about it?

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Knut Holt

The compulsive cleanliness disease is the result of the socialoisation most people are subjected to in manu societies. Outside orderliness is regarded as a must, but real working results are less important.

Tim Peter

I knew I had an underlying reason for leaving my desk this way all these years! Apparently, I’m happy. Who knew?

Seriously, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to writing, though I’ve been trying to break myself of that. I worry it shows. :-)

Anne Zelenka

Hi Eric, I’ve definitely found that in my own work life — I will put stuff off because I’m waiting for the energy and inspiration to do it really, really well. Perfectionism definitely can be related to procrastination!

Sue — blogging helps me be less perfectionist with my writing because I just have to get stuff out. Can’t be a perfectionist if you’re publishing stuff every day.

Danny — I dunno, there’s probably a happy medium. Your house does need to be reasonably straight or you (and your “old lady”) will go crazy! ;)


I also tend to be a perfectionist with writing. I can edit something endlessly…I mean for weeks. I’m going to try the time boxing approach as well.


Interesting research Anne. Other studies show that perfectionists can be procrastinators as well. They put off working on a project because they do not feel it can be done perfectly (for various reasons). Seems to me like a good reason for accountability from people who know you best. They know when to encourage you and when to be tough on you. We all do better and what we put our hands to when we know someone is going to hold us accountable.


(a.k.a. WeirdGuy)

Danny Outlaw

I knew a kept a messy desk for a reason. Does this mean I dont need to clean my house either? Can someone tell my old lady?

April Holle

I think this is great advice! If you don’t give yourself the ability to mess up every once in awhile you’re going to eventually become your own worst enemy.

We have enough negative vibes coming out from all around us, don’t need to be adding to it ourselves. Give yourself a break, enjoy what you can when you can instead of stressing yourself out about what’s to come and what still needs to be done. :)


Leave work on time. Don’t arrive early. Take all the breaks allowed. Leave the desk a mess. Allow yourself a set number of tries to finish a job; then turn in what you have.

Sounds like a union job to me.


yeah, I’ve always considered perfectionism a disease, albeit one with potential benefits. Nice to see some studies backing that up and suggesting ways of dealing with it.

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