You can tell a lot about a person just by looking at his or her desk. 

After spending so much time working at your desk, whether it’s at a home office or in a corporate setting, that piece of real estate starts to become an important part of your life. And, like it or not, it begins to reflect your personality.

Even a casual observer can glance at your desk and tell a bit about your personality, your working style, and what occupies your heart and mind when you are away from that desk: hockey? Children? Dogs?

You can do the same by looking at your colleagues’ desks, which can help you work out who the organized one is in the office, who is most likely to have some snacks (hey, it’s important!), and who has some of the same after-work interests and hobbies as you do.

I would never, of course, suggest that merely glancing at a colleague’s desk could replace actually conversing with them to discover their habits, organizational abilities and after-work interests, but being conscious of how your own desk appears to others is valuable.

So what DOES your desk clutter, or lack thereof, say about you?

A Cluttered Desk

Looking for someone lively and loquacious for your next project? Look for the cluttered desk.

There’s always that one person in the office who is infamous for having a messy desk: leftover lunch, candy wrappers, papers strewn about, cables, meeting notes, printouts, and lots of questionable memorabilia.


For those people and others who might not be as offensive in their individual styles, the phrase ‘organized chaos’ is undeniable. Others are just described as chaos. Period.

While a cluttered desk doesn’t have much appeal, you’ll usually find that those who operate with a messy workspace are extroverted, gregarious and always welcoming their colleagues into their workspace. Most people who have a cluttered desk are also considered creative, more concerned with other aspects of their work above how their workspace looks to others. 

As an executive recruiter working with all levels of corporate officers and employees, I’ve seen all the combinations of messiness and creativity.

At its worst, all that clutter might be a good indication that they are not the most organized individuals. So, if you’re working collaboratively with a colleague who is a bit messy, you might need to keep them on track and on task. If you’re the one with the messy desk, schedule a clear-out session every week or so. You will feel some relief as will your colleagues. Secretly, your officemates fear that your messy workspace might invade their own.

As I’ve described them, messy desks may sound like a huge harbinger of a distracted mind, but that’s not necessarily true.

On the upside:

  • Employees who have cluttered desks are said to be extroverted, friendly and welcoming of colleagues. 
  • They are also found to be more creative than their tidier co-workers.

On the downside:

  • Messy people are also less productive than others, since more time is spent on locating documents than actually producing them.

The Minimalist Mystique

If it’s organization is your primary objective, go to someone with a minimalist desktop. 

An orderly desk with minimal items on it is usually a sign that someone thrives on structure; they need neatness in their workspace in order to be productive. This is always desirable when you have continuous deadlines or are working on ongoing projects across multiple teams. 

More often than not, a minimalist desk is a practicality: excess items are only going to get in the way and stop you achieving your goals. Those who work hard and want to get the most productivity of their workdays are more likely to have desks clean and clear.

On the flipside, a squeaky-clean desktop can appear to colleagues that there is a lack of personality or a preponderance of sterility. No memorabilia? No family photos? It could appear you are not invested in the company and don’t have long-term plans for the current career path.

Finding a balance between personalization and minimalism is ultimately desirable. 

On the upside:

  • People who prefer minimalism are conscientious, cautious and disciplined. 
  • They like planning and structure.

On the downside:

  • Such people are found to be less creative than their messy colleagues, and are said to lack creativity or personality in their work. 

But of course, there are many exceptions.

I would never suggest that you base your opinion of a colleague’s work habits and reliable solely on the appearance of his/her workspace; that’s when the conversations and performance will determine the true nature of the person.

Are YOU a cluttered-desk worker or are you a minimalist ?