Although the survey comes from a slightly impeachable source (a study funded by CableOrganizer.com), 30% of survey respondents said their workspaces were cluttered to “hinders productivity” level. To be fair to CableOrganizers.com, only 8% listed cables and wiring as the source of clutter; paper and files was a much larger problem, at 50%.
Which are interesting datapoints. But they leave a great deal unexamined. What counts as “productivity”? For that matter, as “clutter”? To some extent, I think most of us apply a modernist approach to work structure: The ability to lay your hands (or eyes) on a particular piece of information exactly when you need it. But for more postmodern work, flux and chaos are sometimes useful: productive in weird ways. Not that “clutter” (whatever, exactly that is) for clutter’s sake is necessarily a goal, but accident and shifting juxtapositions of information have their own benefits, especially in exploratory thinking.
I’ve been doing the Getting Things Done mantra for the last couple of years, and I like a lot of it: focusing on actions, setting up structures for, well, getting things done. And I spend a certain amount of my day on it. But I’ve also found that that there’s a necessary oscillation to this: moving back and forth between chaos and order is (for me at least) produces more interesting things than simple efficiency. GTD does provide a structure to support that, but it’s too easy to focus on setting up and checking off actions in a list at the expense of interesting work.
(Anyone who has seen my workspaces will attest to the fact that all of the above seems like a futile rationalization.)