What Donald Trump's messy desk says about him, according to organisational experts

“I don’t think that's a naturally organised mind which anyone would find concerning"

Rachel Hosie@rachel_hosie
Thursday 16 February 2017 14:39
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Look around any office and you’ll see some employees with nothing on their desks but a notepad and pen.

Then there are others whose desks are covered in mugs, sheets of paper, photos, a diary, cards, post-it notes, hand cream, expenses from four months ago and an ever-changing array of snacks.

Some people claim to love having things around them, while others can’t bear clutter, but is one better than the other when it comes to work?

It has recently returned to public attention that President Donald Trump is messy.

For decades, we’ve seen photos of Trump sitting at his gargantuan desk in Trump Tower surrounded by piles and piles of papers, photos and general knick-knacks.

And now that he’s moved into the White House, the new president has brought his disorderly habits with him.

A screengrab from Fox News' Hannity

“Look at my desk. Papers. You don't see presidents with that on their desk,” Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity in a recent interview, seemingly proud of his clutter.

Historically, the desk in the Oval Office - known as the Resolute Desk - has been orderly and minimal, but unsurprisingly, Trump is doing things differently.

But what could it mean that President Trump keeps a cluttered desk? Should we be worried?

According to a 2013 study, “disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition,” which certainly sounds right for Trump.

Of course, that could be a good or bad thing though.

Further studies have reached the conclusion that people with messy desks are more creative and better at solving problems than their tidier counterparts - Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Mark Twain all famously had disorganised working spaces.

In fact, back in 2012, Trump said he believes all successful businesspeople have messy desks:

“I’ve noticed over the years, successful people have a lot going on on their desk. My desk is in my office, my desk is a very important part of me, and frankly it’s a very important part of my success.

“Everything I do comes right through this desk. So, if it’s not perfectly neat, if there’s a lot of action, I think that’s okay. I actually think that’s a good thing.”

But professional organiser and author of Start with your sock drawer Vicky Silverthorn says she thinks that’s “deluded” and “not true at all,” adding that “it’s a crazy thing to say and just not accurate.”

Studies have shown that physical clutter affects our brain’s ability to focus, and productivity and organisational expert Patty Cruz-Fouchard says a messy desk usually equals a scatty brain: “It means there’s something else going on in your head - you're too busy, you're not really focussed on one thing so you’re being reactive instead of proactive.

“People like that can’t find what they’re working on, it’s difficult for them to work out their priorities and it shows confusion in general,” she explained to The Independent.

Trump receives a pizza delivery to his desk in Trump Tower in 2005

Workers with messy desks tend to find it hard to stay focussed and it usually reflects what’s going on in their lives, hindering their productivity, ability to focus and feel calm.

Cruz-Fouchard is not surprised Trump’s workspace is chaotic: “In the debates it was so difficult for him to maintain any sort of structure. He’s too spontaneous which must be how he organises his day depending on his mood.”

There’s so much on the desk that Silverthorn doesn’t see how Trump could be highly organised or productive, although she concedes that it’s not completely chaotic.

A totally clear and desk and minimalistic working environment doesn’t necessarily promote productivity and creativity, but Silverthorn thinks Trump’s messy desk is “extremely concerning.”

“Clear space equals clear thinking, high levels of productivity, positivity and clarity in the mind,” she explained to The Independent. “I don’t think that's a naturally organised mind which I think anyone would find concerning.”

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