Do more, be better

Clean desk, clean mind

by Harry on 15 March 2011, filed under Working It Out

The words “clean desk, clean mind” were left on our large vertical whiteboard when I returned to the office one afternoon. Their author, John, has possibly the untidiest desk I have ever known. He also has a very dry sense of humor and I expect the statement was intended to apply a cheeky twist to the concept of “cluttered desk, cluttered mind”.

Looking around me right now, my own desk is a minor disaster – so I’m in no position to be righteous. Next to my screen there are stacks of well ordered notes and papers, but a little further back are files that haven’t been touched in weeks. My desk is garnished with random objects, including two forks, a dental floss sample pack, a first generation digital camera, several sets of chopsticks, coins, my passport and highlighter pens in four different colours.

I fantasize about living and working in spaces that are aesthetically beautiful, with only relevant creative things surrounding me. A total absence of anything useless, pointless or stale. Or as William Morris put it, “have nothing in your house you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”.

I once listened to a talk by Donald Norman where he mused at how a clean car always seems to drive better. As strange as that seems, I have to agree with him and it shows how the ‘clean desk effect’ can stretch to just about every aspect of life: the home, the car, the things we use – even the clothes we wear. If you don’t want to feel stressed and pressured and out of control, then don’t live and work with anything that is a metaphor for confusion. Simple.

It applies to software too. A user-interface that is elegant and makes you want to smile just by looking at it, will work better than one which looks complicated and messy. Function alone is simply not enough (and neither is beauty) but it’s astounding how many web applications can induce tension headaches through the mere act of looking at them.

Anyway, back to my desk! I’m not going to give up. I’m going to keep fighting this battle and stay strong in the belief that one day I will work in stress free and inspiring surroundings. And when I find the answer, I’m going to teach John too. And when that’s done I’m going to solve World Peace.

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