How Clutter Impacts Employee Productivity


Multitasking is a myth, and no human brain can multitask. We’re only simply switching from one task to another. This is due to how our executive control and building blocks of attention work. When we work, our environment impacts productivity because distractions divide our focus. And since we can’t multitask, this will gravely affect employee productivity, resulting in financial losses. One of the most apparent productivity inhibitors is clutter. We’ve narrowed down six ways a cluttered workspace impacts work productivity. 

1. Hinders ability to focus

Work clutter is typical for most employees who don’t set a routine to declutter before churning out tasks. Some examples of work environment clutter are:

  • Supplies clutter
  • Paper clutter
  • Unopened packages and documents
  • Unnecessary items on your office desk
  • Unfinished projects
  • Documents you don’t need or read
  • Recreational clutter
  • Sentimental clutter

Visual clutter affects employee productivity due to heightening cognitive overload, which reduces employees’ working memory. In turn, this impacts our ability to focus. Clutter also increases anxiety levels and stress. One example is when we fail to find an item, such as a document or pen, which causes increased anxiety and stress.

2. Affects physical health

The DSM-V classifies hoarding as an actual disorder that can result in mental anguish and anxiety when things are thrown away. Discarding items you don’t need causes areas in the brain associated with physical pain. 

A 2009 research showed that a cluttered environment increased the level of stress hormones called cortisol. This can trigger our body’s flight-or-fight response, negatively contributing to psychological and physical changes. 

Clutter can also trigger avoidance and coping strategies. When you’re working from home, this can lead to snacking on junk food or watching TV shows instead of working. Remote workers are more prone to clutter as they’re in a more comfortable work environment. 

Creating a conducive workspace is crucial when designing your home office. Investing in good furniture, like office desks and ergonomic chairs, is a great way to start. Adding more storage in your room’s home office, like dressers or chests, is also recommended to stow unnecessary items quickly.

3. Inhibits creativity

Some people say clutter encourages creativity. While this may hold true for some people, most people are affected by cluttered workspaces negatively. Clutter impairs your ability to think clearly and brainstorm new ideas due to the overwhelming mess. 

Creativity starts and ends in the mind. Creative ideas can come up anytime, and the brain can only process so much information, leading to mental clutter. Visual clutter can lead to brain clutter. Brain clutter may enhance the creative process because people have many ideas to draw inspiration from. But the drawback of having too many ideas hovering in your mind is the difficulty focusing on a single memory. 

So how can you tell which type you are?

If you want to determine whether clutter affects employee productivity, see if the organized mess works for you or not. The next time you have a cluttered workspace, see if you keep glancing at the mess. If you do, then clean up that messy desk right away!

4. Leads to procrastination

Clutter and procrastination have been linked. The latter is defined as delaying the intended course of action despite identifying negative consequences. Procrastination reduces our quality of life, and so does our professional life. And people may not know this, but procrastination affects 25 percent of adults.

How often do we look at a hot mess in our office and tell ourselves to arrange them “later”? Clutter is one of the most common culprits of procrastination, leading people to make “delayed decisions.” You become overwhelmed if you have too many piled-up tasks, including arranging your workspace. This may result in procrastinating other essential work tasks because you’re doing procrastinated tasks that were meant to be done a long time ago. 

Pro Tip: One powerful method to conquer clutter is to minimize office items and things you don’t need. In short, don’t hoard!

5. Distracts you

Working in a physical office means having too many stimuli that compete for attention. For example, used coffee cups or magazines on your desks may seem harmless. However, your brain competes for attention, affecting employee productivity. And when you’re not giving your work tasks at hand complete attention, you compromise the quality of your work. 

Disorder and confusion are challenging to manage in a hectic work environment. Organize papers in their corresponding folders and files to maximize work productivity. Digitization is the best solution to avoid having too many paper documents on your office desks. Also, eliminate office items you don’t need by storing them in a convenient place that’s easy to find when you need them later.

6. Lowers confidence

A clean office desk sends the right signals to colleagues, managers, and clients. This implies that you have good organizational skills, which can affect their perception of your work etiquette. On the other hand, a messy and unorganized desk may imply laziness or poor work ethic, which can lower your confidence. This may hinder your professional growth and discourage job opportunities. 

The Bottomline

Nothing is more satisfying than working in an organized and clean work environment. Visual clutter leads to mental clutter, which often negatively decreases employee productivity. So if you’ve been unable to complete the task recently, look around you. Maybe the harmless stack of books or accumulated mugs on your desk subconsciously prevents you from getting the job done. Start by establishing a routine to clean your desk, organize files, and throw trash out immediately before concentrating on work.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.