It’s been said that a messy desk is a sign of genius. OK, so what does a cluttered inbox mean?
As personal notes, promotional messages, invitations and subscriptions flow in every hour on the hour, our inboxes quickly fill up. According to technology market research firm Radicati, the average office worker receives about 90 emails a day. How can we keep track of everything?
Journalist and economist Tim Harford thinks a little digital disorganization isn’t a bad thing. The author of Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives suggests there’s a benefit to embracing chaos.
When faced with the choice to clean or not to clean, we create our own systems, he says.
“It turns out that usually leaving it on your desk is a better strategy,” Harford said in an interview. “It looks disorganized. It looks messy. But your desk is actually organizing itself. The good stuff you’re touching rises to the top of the piles of paper and the stuff you’re not touching goes to the bottom.”
Perhaps in being messy, Harford thinks, we also embrace creativity and autonomy. We are not constricted by rules and wasting time categorizing our thoughts and conversations, but keeping what is important front and center.
Indeed, his claims are also backed up by the way we traditionally work in email. A University of California Santa Cruz study found that while people may in fact use their own complex folder systems to store and retrieve important emails, a lot of the time it’s faster and more natural to simply use an email search feature.
So where do we go from here? Perhaps it’s best to have a limited system, but not go overboard when it comes to tags and folders. Create too many rules, and you may find it difficult to follow them all.
Remember, Harford writes: “Life cannot be controlled. Life itself is messy.”