Sunday, January 06, 2008

Clean slate

Part of the end-of-year review, of looking back over the last year and setting goals for the new year is the usual clean-up of the work desk. It's amazing how time-consuming it is to sort out the mounds of clutter that have accumulated over time. The piles would have to be broken down, re-sorted and (hopefully) filed away.

This exercise reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell's article on The Social Life of Paper (The New Yorker, 25 March 2002) where it was suggested that our propensity to pile documents rather than filing them away actually represents the process of active and ongoing thinking. That our piles, in fact, are living, breathing archives. I found myself as one of those people decribed by Gladwell as a piler who would have their papers stacked at an angle or would insert dividers into the stack to chronologically or thematically pile them. Spot on! I do these both at my home desk and at the office.

More interesting bits in the article - I am sure a number of you out there will easily recognise:
"... the top of your desk. Chances are that you have a keyboard and a computer screen off to one side, and a clear space roughly eighteen inches square in front of your chair. What covers the rest of the desktop is probably piles - piles of papers, journals, magazines, binders ... and all other artifacts of the knowledge economy. The piles look like a mess, but they aren't. [The] most disorderly piles usually make perfect sense to the piler."

Gladwell adds:
"The messy desk is not necessarily a sign of disorganization. It may be a sign of complexity: those who deal with many unresolved ideas simultaneously cannot sort and file the papers on their desks, because they haven't yet sorted and filed the ideas in their head. What we see when we look at the piles on our desks is, in a sense, the contents of our brains."

Hmmm...For now, my desk is amazingly clear. Ready to take on yet more piles.

*from PhD Comics, 12 April 2005.

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Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

That is so my desk! I'm am totally a pile-r. I should really show that article to The Boss to justify my "filing" system.

4:52 pm  
Blogger m_andamon said...

LOL. Bet at times you have a messy desk too but justifies it as organized chaos? :)

The article is available here:

11:32 am  

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