Why do tidy people have more energy? Science shows…

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There's a quote that I sometimes see on Facebook. I keep seeing it on the walls of people trying to defend their messiness...

"If a messy desk is a sign of messy thoughts, what does an empty desk mean?" - Albert Einstein

...Have you ever seen her?

Condolence. And not just because Einstein did not say these words (as he didn't tell many others). Messy people are not happy people. Tidy people are both happy and productive.

And I have proof. Not at the level of quotes.

"Pala, pala, who are you?"

There is a type of person who simply CANNOT stand clutter. And not just because you don't want to, but because you just can't  a psychological illness under the umbrella of OCD.

...I am not one of these people.

I've never been a big fan of order, either. I like to organise systems, but... Well, as my friends (and parents) have noticed, I usually end up with more mess.

So after 4 years of individual work, the last 2 years working only from home and cafes in Kaunas, I am finally convinced that order is a productivity bomb.

  • A tidy environment - helps you focus on your work;
  • A tidy home - helps you not to worry about the little things;
  • Neatly finished work - work that is truly finished (and not just continued until the first disaster);
  • Order is peace.

It's not for nothing that I wrote Book about order, focus and how it makes life easier. ...Oh, it was a commercial! It blew up. Pretend you didn't hear it.

But where did I end up?

FIRST: Scientists agree that a tidy environment helps you work longer, feel less tired and feel better.

I have always been a research whore. And while research doesn't mean that anything it says is true (scientists once thought that the explosion of an atomic bomb would ignite the entire planet's air), a scientific study published in a normal journal will usually be worth more than three sentences on a pretty picture.

So let's turn to Google Scholar and take a lookwhat science says about order, disorder and our brains... Is disorder really so bad?

1) It's easier to run to Facebook in a mess.

Or other thieves of attention and time like Tinder, Gmail, Delphi... You know better who is stealing your time.

In 2013 Boyoun Chae and Rui Zhu with Harvard Business Review conducted a small study with 100 PhD students. Half of the students were taken to a messy room, the other to a tidy room and given a challenging task. Except that the task was not just difficult - it was impossible. Interestingly, the participants in the tidy room spent an average of 18 minutes trying to complete the task, while the participants in the messy room gave up after 11 minutes.

And, although it might mean that the participants were more likely to see the meaninglessness of the task in a messy room (I'll talk more about the link between messiness and creativity later), if you have a task that really needs to be done... a final thesis, a well-prepared task given to you by your boss, you're trying to do some exercise or meditation, to finish those technical and creative works you haven't done in a long time...

...It's a tidy environment (or at least what's visible on your horizon) that will help you finish your work faster, more efficiently and without going to Facebook.

Chae and Zhu speculate that "The mess prevented participants from feeling really safe. These distractions quickly sapped their mental strength". In other words, the same thing happened as when walking through a dark underpass or walking in the woods at night - the unknown is frightening (and it's normal to be frightened!) and makes it hard to concentrate. The mind itself jumps from one thing that catches the eye to another, looking for possible dangers.

2) And also, even when you're not on Facebook, you're still not focusing properly.

In the mess, even the minutes when you are working on ale are not as good as they could be.

In 2011, the Princeton Neuroscience Institute conducted another study - this time in an environment of brain activity that is both orderly and disorderly. The results are similar - to quote the researchers, "Stimulus noise in the eye battles for salience in the image-perception centres of the brain, which correlates with limited image-perception abilities". Or, to put it more simply, tidy up, because clutter interferes with focus on the image.

...So if you want to finally read that book you started two years ago, or focus on an article on the internet (like this one!), or fill in your tax return and make your tax payments without mistakes - do it in an orderly environment.

If you can't make it home, you can always go to your local café or library. And if you live in Lithuania, enjoy it. I was in Paris recently and it is almost impossible to find a clean, simple café or public library there. We have a unique opportunity to work, read and learn in a focused way, if it is not possible in a formal workplace or at home.

3) You spend mountains of time looking for information, papers, tools.

And that costs nerves and euros.International Data Corporation (IDC), who have carried out research on the performance of organisations, saw that in some organisations, workers spend around 2.5 hours a day looking for tools. This can cost an organisation of 1,000 employees around €2.5 million a year. Do you have any idea how much the mess costs you?

While it takes time to get things in order (usually not that much, by the way), the return on that productive time is much higher than living in disarray.

Nerius Jasinavičius, a business process expert, says that it is these mudos (meaningless back and forth walks) is why Lithuanian workers are so unproductive. It is by getting rid of these muds that Japanese organisations like Toyota started. There, instead of having tools scattered all over the place, one of the most important job skills is Put your tools where you can find them quickly and easily.

If you do freelance work on a computer, I suggest you try virtualising your work - which means using apps like Google Docs or others that I mention in my "The Lazy Manifesto".

Oh, and I'll be surprised if you've never experienced any problems when shopping in some shops or sending parcels through Lietuvos paštas. It's really no fun for your customers when their purchases, parcels and other services that they bought from you get lost in drawers somewhere. It is likely that after such a "forgotten" moment, the customer may simply not come back... Is that really what you want?

4) You won't get a promotion or a pay rise.

Whether we like it or not, we cannot see other people's souls and thoughts. Don't be surprised that, like you, you are judged by your appearance.

2016 Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Manchester Business School, researched more than 2,000 surveys of UK workers and saw how important it is.

As many as 73% managers said that a messy and dirty desk meant to them that a correspondingly messy employee was working on it, while 27% said that such employees do not cover the workload, or in other words, do not work. About 10% managers simply wouldn't give a pay rise or promotion to someone working at a messy desk!

In the same survey, 40% workers said that a messy desk hindered their ability to be truly productive, 31% said that clutter was stressful, and 49% said that their colleagues' clutter was one of the reasons why they started to dislike their work.

Same with freelance work - A person in a suit, even working at a Lidl checkout, looks more aware and respectful than a person in dirty tracksuits.

...Of course, clutter is not repulsive to all people. Just for the vast majority of people.

Second: Logic - how can more be better?

Sincerely. "More is better" is a Soviet-era invention. When everything was scarce, it was logical - the more you save at home, the better... But now?

These days, our main task is not just to pack as many possessions as possible at home or at work (or where to put the old car screws that have been handed down from generation to generation), but to choose what really matters.

Minimalism is a tool for this. This philosophy of things, works, people, sources of information and entertainment has few rules. In fact, there is only one: choose what is important to you.


1) A sustainable environment helps focus on long-term results.

And not in the sense of not straying into Facebook, but in the sense that a minimalist will only work on what is truly valuable. You don't want to drag a mountain of meaningless, useless work into a tidy workplace.

A tidy space, like a luxurious palace, inspires you to work on what matters over a long period of time.

Just like in the army. You won't find amusement parks and cheap clothes shops there, because soldiers only come to do the mission that matters to them. Give up everything you don't need and you'll be left with only what's valuable. Just as I invite you to do in the Simplicity Challenge....And that's when you accidentally discover what's really important to you! Just by giving up!

2) Minimalism gives ideas.

If you don't have enough and don't know what you want to do, just sit in an empty space. Just like I plan my articles and books in libraries.

I don't know how to explain it better - just try it and you'll see for yourself that when you have nothing (distracting, capturing attention, demanding that you look at this and that) - ideas will naturally arise about what you could do.

Creativity works best when the brain is relaxed, not hard. In the shower, in a traffic jam, in a quiet pub, sitting on the toilet.(Guess why I keep a notebook in my toilet and why it's filled with the weirdest ideas!)

3) Noise interferes with choice.

That's the only thing that made it better under the Russian. And it's not the quality of the sausage (because in the Soviet era, sausage was loaded with dozens of times more chemicals than it is now) is Choices.

There was no choice with the Russian. Giving? Take it! Now it's a bit more complicated, because when you go to buy even shaving blades (how many options can you think of?), there are ten kinds!

...Choices are not only stressful ("What if I choose the wrong option?"), but they don't feel so good ("What if the other one was better?") and often you don't choose anything at all, which just means hours wasted looking for the best option.

Fewer choices and a simpler environment means a happier life. Read more Barry Schwartz's "Paradox of Choice".

4) Finally, cleanliness.

Bacteria, dust, toxic chemicals (especially if you smoke or use air fresheners in your home), bacteria and other pollutants build up in a dirty environment...

...Order is cleanliness. And cleanliness is usually healthier.

Of course, you shouldn't overdo it. I've heard stories of children who are so protected by their parents that they hardly develop immunity to the natural dirt in the woods, meadows or city streets... But a tidier environment will still be cleaner than the "artistic mess" of piled-up rubbish, unwashed crockery and tea that has been mouldering for five months.

Oh, and it's true that disorder often means a good breeding ground for parasites. Paris, for example, is not short of rats and cockroaches - just because the rubbish there is sometimes dumped wherever it goes...

Yeah, yeah, it's definitely not a good environment.

Third: Let's do an experiment.

One of my favourite authors, Chris Bailey, who, by the way, has also published a rather exceptional book on productivity, which it did.

For a whole week, he didn't tidy up, he didn't shower, he didn't even clean up his rubbish - he just threw it wherever it was convenient. In other words, he lived like a total slob. And he discovered that, yes, it's easy to live in a mess - you don't have to take care of anything! ...It just doesn't add to productivity.

...But I don't think I should retell all his lessons, I recommend it: read his article about a week without cleaning!

And, you know what else?

You can try too. Quite simply. You don't have to blindly trust my every word - set yourself a small challenge and try to work in the mess and then in the order:

  1. Decide how long you would like to experiment. I recommend a week, because you will experience all the normal days of the week.
  2. Then don't do it one week and do it the next.
  3. What happened?

Try and tell me! You won't be sure without trying. I tried to repeat Chris's experiment and was convinced, that only in an orderly environment can I be fulfilled, happy and productive.

Order has become part of my life. Minimalism has become part of my life. And I'm happy, because I'm living better now than I was living in a mess before!

Will you join? Will you try out the philosophy of minimalism in your life?

Your friend,

P.S I mentioned that there are advantages to messiness. Here it is. clutter helps you be more creative! Twilight, bustle, animals, cold and hot drinks also help, but that's a topic for another time; and I've expanded so much!