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  • Is my desk TOO clean (for my coworkers)?

    About a month ago I finally conquered the clutter on my desk at work and now my workspace seems immaculate compared to my coworkers (and compared to what I used to have on my desk). I have gotten numerous comments on it both from peers and even my supervisor. The general reactions fall into two categories: If my desk is empty, I must not have enough work to do or I must be in the process of leaving my job. Someone even took me aside today and confided that "people" are talking about it (behind my back). They want to know if "something is up."

    I enjoy the clutter-free environment, but I am also self-conscious about the attention and also do not want to be an outsider relative to the culture here. I certainly do not need to create the impression that I do not have enough work to do. That breeds resentment among coworkers, detracts from my supervisor's perception of my contributions and value, and obviously invites more work.

    My primary work surface (desktop) can be completely clear of everything except equipment when I am transitioning between tasks and at other times it may have just one folder on it that I am working on. Sometimes there is more stuff spread out temporarily, but it is the first two conditions that are what stand out as irregular. I have even taken to leaving a dummy folder out so that it is never completely bare. Heaven help me if they ever discover my email inbox at zero instead of 969 (I do not leave it open on my screen for just that reason). I work in a pretty open cubicle enviromnent where everything is very visible to lots of other people, and as is true in most workplaces, at least a few of them are nosy and gossippy.

    Maybe what is drawing the unwanted attention has to do with the recent change as much as the actual lack of clutter, but I think that even after time passes and the novelty wears off, there will still be this lingering difference between my desk and others that stands out and causes certain judgements among coworkers.

    Unfortunately, I do not have the kind of job where just being productive can be a justification for everything. It's not like sales, for instance, where your productivity is perfectly quantified by revenue. I work in an accounting environment where workload has never been able to be quantified in any meaningful way and workload distribution has always been a sore spot throughout the department. As a result, each employees's value is primarily judged in subjective ways. I think people here basically understand that they will be given as much work as it takes to swamp them, so keeping clutter and looking frazzled and constantly complaining about workload have become the standard defense here.

    I do not want to be shooting myself in the foot, given this culture.

    Any insights or comments welcome. Thanks.

  • #2
    just tell them you are a neat freak as you stare past them as your head twitches on your neck

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    • #3
      "Well, I heard about this accounting firm that got sued because they left client stuff lying around and someone read it who shouldn't have..."

      I'm sorry, is inducing paranoia among your coworkers too evil?

      In my defense, it's Friday and I've had a rough week.

      Katherine

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      • #4
        Originally posted by kewms View Post
        "Well, I heard about this accounting firm that got sued because they left client stuff lying around and someone read it who shouldn't have..."

        I'm sorry, is inducing paranoia among your coworkers too evil?

        In my defense, it's Friday and I've had a rough week.

        Katherine
        I like that!

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        • #5
          Empty desk policy

          We've implemented a 'clean' desk policy so it's just the way everyone's desk looks.

          I was talking to the head of one of the other development teams about the desk policy and how people mis-interpreted clean desk and organized desk.

          People here would take all their papers and stuff and file them in folders, and put them in wire racks on their desk, their desk was now clean. The boss was walking around telling people that was not what the clean desk policy was, it was about putting the files in the cabinets and locking them.

          All the folks had managed to do was clean up the mess and organize things. You still had the same confidential materials on their desk, just now it was easier for someone to figure out which documents to take from your desk.

          It's not like we do anything super secret here, just a IT shop for a bank. The reason for this policy is to get a security mindset in place, so we think of security in all aspects of our jobs (especially when we are building the banking systems we use).

          Rian

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          • #6
            I'd leae some stuff laying around. You don't need to get fired to prove GTD works.

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            • #7
              You have to pay the rent and keep food on the table, right? Play the game if you need to.

              You may want to set up a "clutter zone" on your desk. This area will hold all of the crap that is for show. You will teach yourself to ignore this area of the desk.

              You will then have another "clean zone" on your desk. This is your sacred space where you execute GTD and only have the files you are currently working on.

              That may help...

              hak
              Last edited by webhak; 04-27-2007, 05:17 PM. Reason: fix typo

              Comment


              • #8
                When you retrieve a file out of your cabinet you can pretend you are searching. Getting mad at you for not finding anything in this da#+ chaoe cabinet. Do this often enough to let your coworkers now, that, yes, you have got problems too. This will calm them down, and you can enjoy the running gags about your files in a special way.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Barry View Post
                  I enjoy the clutter-free environment, but I am also self-conscious about the attention and also do not want to be an outsider relative to the culture here. I certainly do not need to create the impression that I do not have enough work to do. That breeds resentment among coworkers, detracts from my supervisor's perception of my contributions and value, and obviously invites more work.
                  I think you've got an opportunity here to change the culture of your organisation by introducing them to GTD (Probably not though, they'll most likely take a quick look at the GTD process diagram, decide it's far too simple to be of any use and not ask about it anymore). At least the "mystery" which surrounds the tidyness of your desk will be explained. People are scared and feel threatened by the unknown.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Barry View Post
                    Unfortunately, I do not have the kind of job where just being productive can be a justification for everything. It's not like sales, for instance, where your productivity is perfectly quantified by revenue. I work in an accounting environment where workload has never been able to be quantified in any meaningful way and workload distribution has always been a sore spot throughout the department. As a result, each employees's value is primarily judged in subjective ways. I think people here basically understand that they will be given as much work as it takes to swamp them, so keeping clutter and looking frazzled and constantly complaining about workload have become the standard defense here.
                    I would recommend keeping a log of everything you do. Or printing out and filing your archived completed actions. That way, if a manager ever questions your productivity, you can provide a summary of what you did yesterday, last week, last month, etc.

                    Generally, the "frazzled" syndrome is a way of creating space for procrastinating. If your desk is flooded with papers, you look busy even if you spend most of the day standing at a co-worker's desk complaining about how outrageously busy you are.

                    Take heart. I imagine there are other people (esp. managers) who notice tasks completed efficiently, emails and calls promptly returned, etc. In other words, if you're getting done what you need to do, then there will be an objective measurement of your productivity.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Using decoys

                      What don't you try to use decoy files on top of your desk ie files which you are not really using, but which will be positioned in an artful way on top of your desk to suggest busy-ness. The real files will be carefully stored where they should be!

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                      • #12
                        Two years ago I walked into my accountants office to finish up (I thought) some tax work. I had never been to his office before, we'd always met on neutral ground usually over lunch. I was appalled at the stacks of paperwork on his desk. How on earth could he possibly find my information strewn haphazardly in amongst the piles of other clients records... I decided then and there it was the last year he would do my taxes.

                        Sure enough about a week later he called up and needed me to resend information I'd already given him. I had a large refund coming and because of his clutter problem I had to file an extension. As the extension was running out, he called again to have me send the same information (for the third time). I did get my refund but had to pay a small penalty as we missed the deadline for filing even with the extension.

                        My current accountant has an extremely organized office.

                        If there is anyone I want who can control clutter its my accountant.

                        If I were you I think my approach would be to proactively go to your boss and let him know that you've found that you are more productive with a clean desk. Tell him that you have some extra capacity and that given this newfound productivity you'd like to take on an additional high-profile project.

                        Either he'll be impressed and you'll be putting yourself in position for a promotion, or he won't and you'll know its time to look for a new boss...

                        As for the busybodies at work I would ignore them. Let them know that you think the workload is manageable and that it isn't a problem for you. Point them to David's book if they are curious, but don't slow down just to keep from making them look bad.

                        Don't let people who used to be your peers slow you down.

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                        • #13
                          I'd just tell them you find you work more effectively with a clutter free desk. I don't think that's so hard to believe and might make them think you're really efficient (rather than them thinking you don't have enough work to do).

                          If you could find some way of quantifying your productivity that would be great, then you could gauge the results you're getting with GTD. I do what one of th earlier comments suggested - log every completed NA. It's easy for me because I have all my NAs in a text file on my computer, and at the bottom of the file I have a "completed" section. At the end of the day I copy and paste that section to my "completed NAs" text file - I can tell you what NAs I've done on any given day in the last 2 years (will be useful in case anyone ever questions my productivity, but that's never happened!)

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                          • #14
                            I agree with jpm. Reminds me of a short story (I think by Kurt Vonnegut?) about a world where, in furtherance of equality, the most talented ballerinas had to wear leg weights to compensate for their natural gifts.

                            You should feel proud to be so on top of things! Others are likely jealous and also fear change. Is it going to far to say survival of the fittest?

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                            • #15
                              Thanks to all for the great suggestions. I appreciate the feedback and now I have some good ideas to consider and try.

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