Secret Marketer: Clutter is messy but being untidy leads to some of the best ideas

Decluttering might be all the rage but sometimes being messy can lead to inspiration.

I’m feeling the pressure to change my ways and conform to the new frenzy of decluttering and simplifying my stuff. It started when my wife read ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo, but its insidious influence has been felt in the workplace. Our CEO is organised and neat – two adjectives never associated with me.

I have started optimising. I have read productivity books, made spreadsheets to track my progress, cleared my desk each night, ensured I’m on top of my ‘to do’ lists, and got more focused. The problem is that I am a ‘piler’ not a ‘filer’. I clutter up places with piles of work, notes, books – together with lots of ‘stuff’. Everything active, and a lot more inactive, is in a stack on the table or floor.

I find myself having to defend my mess. Of course, we all need to get more and better work out of ourselves and our teams, but with me, it involves methods that Kondo would find sub-optimal. I’m always messing around with different shelving, drawers, file spaces, both in the office and at home. But I know where everything is, so if I move it, I forget where I moved it to. Frustration ensues all round.

Being messy can foster inspiration. I have not planned it this way but I keep it this way, as it helps me. An old report can spark unexpected ideas. The title of a book can serve as insight or a psychological trigger. You can’t get this if your notes and half-baked ideas are locked inside a computer, or ‘in the cloud’. Nothing can leap out at you that way.

I have a theory on this based on something I learned at a time management course years ago. Popular ideas such as decluttering are typically taken up by people who are already good at that particular thing, and who don’t need it. These obsessives, in turn, try to foist these ideas on other poor unfortunates like me.

Yes, clutter is messy. Yes, it can drain willpower. Yes, I might run the risk of turning up on the TV show Hoarders. But the popularity of an idea does not mean it’s a good idea. Popularity is not proof of value or that the idea will work. The trouble with dogma is that it does not allow you to figure out what works best for you. Getting performance from yourself and your team is a messy business at the best of times, not a one-size-fits-all thing that must be force-fit. Working in marketing is not the same as being an airline pilot, with the necessity of rigid rules and checklists.

My untidy desk may be the sign of a messy, unproductive thought process. But clean up too much and I might accidentally clean out my mind. In any case, my approach has worked to achieve the modicum of success that I have so far. Just remember, folks, success can be cooked up in a messy kitchen.

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