Desk Clutter Can Cut Careers

messy desk If your desktop is covered with stacks of paper, used coffee mugs, and sticky notes, you may find your career faltering, and messy work spaces may be shaping the way your co-workers and supervisors perceive you.

That's according to the OfficeMax Workspace Organization Survey, conducted by Kelton Research this month, which also found that more than two-thirds of Americans admit their organizational skills are lacking.

"If you are wondering what's holding you back from that promotion or why you weren't asked to be a part of new project team, take a look at your desk," said international organizational expert Peter Walsh, who just launched a new show on the Oprah Winfrey Network called 'Enough Already!'

"If you have piles of paper and a to-do list filled with items that keep getting perpetually pushed back, think about how these examples of procrastination impact your productivity and your self image. If you want to change your situation at work, you need start with getting -- and keeping -- your desk in order. It is the key to increasing your productivity and your image as someone who can handle more responsibility."

The study also revealed that many Americans are ashamed of their disorganization and worried about people dropping by their office or home for fear of witnessing their messy habits. The areas people are reportedly most ashamed of anyone seeing include their desk or workspace (35 percent), bedroom closet (28 percent), or desk drawers (12 percent).

Perhaps even more alarming is the image you convey to others. With performance evaluations common at the start of the year, professional appearances really matter. "The condition of your desk can shape your boss's and co-workers' perception of you and your work habits," said Walsh. "If there's no semblance of order and purpose, it's easy for people -- particularly your boss -- to think that you are not on top of projects and that you're overwhelmed."

Not only do professionals judge their own organizational habits, but over half (53 percent) surveyed admit to thinking negatively of their co-workers with messy desks. In fact, professionals who see a colleague's cluttered workspace reportedly assume that person must be lacking in other aspects of his or her job (40 percent) or take it one step further and have a lower overall opinion of this colleague (13 percent). However, some are more forgiving and believe the co-worker is simply overworked and doesn't have time to clean up (33 percent).

It seems a disorganized desk not only shapes the opinion your colleagues have of you, but it is also affecting your attitude. Nine in 10 (90 percent) Americans admit that disorganization at home or work has a negative impact on their lives. Many believe that their productivity (77 percent), state of mind (65 percent), motivation (53 percent) and happiness (40 percent) are also negatively affected when there is disorder. Moreover, 20 percent of Americans report that clutter also harms their relationships with other people.

However, a new year brings new hope. Almost half (46 percent) believe they will be more mindful of office organization this year than they were in 2010. What's the inspiration? Close to seven in 10 (69 percent) say maintaining their sanity or peace of mind is what typically motivates them to get organized. Other motivating factors include having visitors over (38 percent), feeling stressed or out-of-control (28 percent), and new beginnings, such as a new job or the New Year (23 percent) are additional motivators.

While people are feeling more motivated to declutter this time of year, there are still some strong reasons why people delay or avoid organization. In fact, Americans have the best of intentions to organize their desk or workspace (45 percent), computer files (36 percent), or e-mail (28 percent) but for various reasons never get around to it.

The biggest challenge seems to be deciding what goes and what stays. Nearly half (46 percent) have struggled with prioritizing what should be saved or thrown away, while others claim finding the motivation to get the job done (43 percent) or having the right organizational tools (27 percent) such as labels, binders, or desktop organizers prevent them from organizing their work spaces.

Fortunately, Americans understand the value of being organized and admit it helps them feel more accomplished (71 percent), in control of their lives (68 percent) and relaxed (43 percent). While we have all experienced being overwhelmed with clutter, it's out with the old and in with the new, organized you in 2011.

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