‘Twas sitting at my desk, listening to an audio program on goal setting and time management.
The year was 1991.
As I listened I began to clean my desk. And then a couple clients came in to train (I had a gym as a personal fitness trainer at the time).
The woman, a high-energy best-selling author and highly paid keynote speaker, began to look at the program I was listening
to as her husband questioned me with, “What’s this all about?”
I began to rave about the program I was taking notes on.
“What have you learned so far?” he asked.
“Let me tell you, I’ve got pages of notes. One of the biggest is to keep my desk clean, to never let books and files and notes and
paperwork stack up,” I exclaimed.
“Hahahahahhahahahahahahahaha,” the couple chuckled and chortled in unison.
“What?” I wondered.
“Why do you think it’s a good idea to have a clean desk,” the man queried.
“Well, according to this program, all high achievers, all successful people, have clean desks.”
“I guess the author of the program has never visited the office of (he named a prominent business author who received, at the time, $65,000.00 per keynote.)”
I stood in shock, and listened intently as his wife nodded.
He continued: “In fact, if you were to see his office, and it’s about the size of your gym here (2,000 square feet), you’d see stacks of books and files several feet high everywhere. And then you’d see a small little path where you could make your way to his desk.”
“Are you serious?”
The couple shook their heads up and down. “Yes.”
He added: “There’s nothing wrong with having a clean desk, if that works for you and helps you be more productive. But you’d be surprised how many high-earners and entrepreneurs have desks, offices and homes that are literally stacks upon stacks of papers, files, clippings and books. That’s how they work best. A clean desk would drive them insane.”
To say I was speechless would be an understatement.
The woman then added one final punch to the “You must have a clean desk” motivational mythology.
“As Einstein once said, ‘A messy desk is the mask of genius.'”
In looking to verify the quote, I found one that is much better.
“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign of?” – Laurence J. Peter
From the date of the conversation highlighted above, I am quick to call “horsefeathers” on anyone who claims that a clean desk, a made bed, washed dishes and so on are somehow the “keys” to success.
In each and every one of these activities, you will find the “lack thereof” producing successful people as well.
If you function better and enjoy life more with a clean desk, with everything where it “should” be, with a made bed and dishes that are washed seconds after they get dirty, then I suggest you continue with this way of being.
But don’t assume this is the only way, the right way, the high-achievers way – or the way to success, just because someone else created a program saying so.
As a coach to many high-achieving people – as well as those on the way up the ladder – they can also vouch for the fallaciousness of so many of the myths that are posited as “truth” in the world of motivation and self-help.
In case you’re wondering if I have a clean desk – the answer is “what desk?”
You’re assuming I work at a desk.
I rarely do, so I could care less if it’s clean or cluttered.
When I do work at a desk – the answer is “sometimes.”
The same goes for whether I get up at 5 AM or got to bed early or plan my day in writing – or write out my goals.
Sometimes. Sometimes not.
Overall, a messy desk, getting up late, going to bed late and refusing to make my bed (most of the time), have served me very well.
I also love to go on a spree every couple years and get everything nice and tidy in my office.
In doing so, I feel elated and reborn. Until I realize the bed wasn’t made and the dishes got dirty.
Don’t fear the stuff that doesn’t matter.
So many of the motivational maxims are unnatural. Hence, they do not work.
Focus on the small natural actions and “ways” that do work and you’ll be all the better for it.
P.S. The natural way to success is what I coach people on each and every day. Your brain and nervous system will go to work for you, almost on autopilot, once you know what “natural” is for YOU. Want some of the natural way? – then go here and see if you want to fill out an application.
P.P.S. Here’s how you can follow me on anti-social media: