Your physical environment plays a major role in your mindset.
As early as kindergarten, society begins rewarding those among us who are consistently neat, clean, tidy, and super-organized. Those with messy desks or cubby holes earn a “needs improvement” on their report cards and are told to be “more like Joe,” whose desk is always neatly arranged in perfect rows with not a paper astray.
This continues into adulthood. There are obvious advantages to an orderly workspace, but is tidy always best? Recent research suggests the opposite: Letting go of rigid tidiness might actually promote creativity and be your key to brainstorming your company’s next million-dollar idea. Here are some science-backed ways to embrace a little chaos on your desk to boost creativity at work.
Aim for organized clutter. Of course you want to keep your desk free of sticky spills (and the germs that go with them), but it’s okay to have some extra books and papers around. A 2013 study published in Psychological Science found that minimalism and rigid organization did inspire more self-discipline for participants (such as making healthier snack choices), but participants in a “disorderly” room consistently got their creative juices flowing. Why? The healthy dose of mess encouraged participants to break conventions and pursue novelty, which is the perfect environment for creativity.
Harness your green thumb. A few plants around the office or at your desk can improve your mood—and your creativity by extension. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied found that employees gave higher ratings of air quality, focus, and morale in green spaces, which ultimately led to an overall company improvement in productivity. So yes, watering all those ferns is SO worth it.
Go au naturale. In addition to overflowing your desk area with succulents and a vase of fresh daisies, make your work environment feel as close to the great outdoors as possible. Let in natural light. Add items to your desk made from natural materials like wood, linen, or clay. A study in the Creativity Research Journal found that high school students produced more creative designs in a room with direct sunlight and natural materials compared to one with drywall, plastic, and other manmade materials.
Get artsy. Not only will this boost your mood, but it can spark your imagination and help you come up with your next brilliant idea. Feel free to doodle during meetings or relieve stress with a grown-up coloring book.
Use a bulletin board. Post photos that perk you up, motivational quotes, and any other personal inspo to keep your mood and energy levels up throughout the day.
For more tips on boosting productivity at work, here’s how to set up your desk to improve posture and prevent aches and pains. And make sure to clean your keyboard, one of the germiest things at your desk.
McCoy JM, and Evans GW. The potential role of the physical environment in fostering creativity. Creat Res J. 2002;14(3-4):409-26.
Nieuwenhuis M, Knight C, Postmes T, and Haslam SA. The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. J Exp Psychol Appl. 2014;20(3):199-214.
The science of creativity. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. (Accessed on September 13, 2017 at http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2009/01/creativity.aspx.)
Vohs KD, Redden JP, and Rahinel R. Physical order produces healthy choices, generosity, and conventionality, whereas disorder produces creativity. Psychol Sci. 2013 Aug;24(9):1860-7.