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When Being Organised Is Not Productive

By Meaghan Marshall, Feb 9 2015 11:50AM

When I began this post I intended to write a list of tips for organisation and time management. You know the article I mean, “10 Habits of Organised People” or maybe “100 Tips to Get Your Life Organised”

But then I started to think about our individual differences and remembered that not everyone has a preference for structure. If you are familiar with Myers-Briggs personality types you will know this preference can be defined as either a Judging (J) or Perceiving (P) preference. Judgers prefer a structured approach, plans, and to organise their work to achieve goals and results in a predictable way. Perceivers however have a preference for more flexibility. Structure to a Perceiver will feel limiting rather than enabling. I am a J, so naturally, my first thought was a list to achieve greater organisation. Once I started thinking about it however, I realised maybe I need to look at this from the other preference.

Are there advantages of being less structured?

The Messy Desk & Creativity

I am J preference; I like to have things decided, I have too many lists, I dislike procrastination and I am never rushing to meet a deadline, however I do have to confess my desk is a mess. I do feel better about this now though since not only did Albert Einstein apparently have a messy workspace but also according to researchers at the University of Minnesota disorder produces creativity. According to the experiment, environments that are orderly lead people toward tradition and convention where disorder more towards creativity. It was concluded from the study that disorderly environments inspire breaking free of tradition which can produce fresh ideas and new approaches.

So having an organised desk is not always best. If you need to generate creative ideas or solve a problem that needs an innovative unconventional approach it might be best to let the clutter accumulate to inspire an ingenious breakthrough.

The flip side is also true so if you are more inclined towards mess and you need to approach a task with discipline and focus. A clean-up might help you with more conventional and conscientious concentration.


One of the advantages I can see of not having a set plan or decisions in concrete, is greater flexibility. Without the need for order and predictability you have the freedom to be more spontaneous and open to opportunities.

Sometimes it is possible that focusing on being organised and carefully following the rules means that we are too rigid. So committed to achieving a deadline or to a decision already made, we miss new, pertinent information. Following too closely to a schedule can mean we miss out on new and exciting opportunities.

Rather than being ultra-organised to the point of inflexible, we need to be prepared and relaxed enough to find a balance between having a plan and being able to improvise as needed. We need to be open to new information and new opportunities in order to be truly productive.

When Being Organised Takes up Time

How much time do you spend on being organised before it becomes counterproductive? Engaging in organisation has opportunity costs. The time you spent on cleaning your desk, writing an elaborate colour coded to-do list is time you could spend on another task. So what is more important? Clearing away previous work off my desk or using that time on my next project?

Lorie Marrero a Professional Organizer and creator of The Clutter Diet talks about this here, she suggests that you need to look at Return on Investment (ROI). Which in the case of organisation means; Is the time, money, or energy you are investing in the process going to pay off by offering you more time, money, and energy in return? If the answer is no, you need to evaluate if the effort is worth it. Lorie works on the principle of “Good Enough” which means that you find the level of organization that is appropriate to provide a return that is worth the investment.

It seems to me that there are times when too much organisation isn’t productive and there are advantages of being less structured. Moderate disorganisation is probably acceptable and certainly there is no need to strive for perfect order all the time.

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