CLEAN DESK, HEALTHY MIND
On the radar screen of employment-threatening conditions — unfriendly new boss, competitors with killer app, Enron-itis — chances are most of us don’t see “clutter.” Maybe we should. Author Mike Nelson once lost a lucrative, enjoyable job because his office resembled a ten-family garage sale smacked by a tornado. “I missed deadlines, I never had the right information at the right time, and my general disorganization disrupted the rest of the office,” he says.

In Clutter-Proof Your Business: Turn Your Mess into Success (Career Press), Nelson argues that decluttering leads to higher productivity and profits. Some provocative stats: As much as 20 percent of the average work week is lost to clutter and its resulting chaos. And, organization experts say, 80 percent to 90 percent of information we file never gets used. But office clutter is not a purely logical matter. Nelson says we keep everything because we’re afraid not to. Some companies unknowingly encourage packratting with a “CYA” mentality. “You’d better hold on to every piece of paper so you can prove you weren’t the one who messed up,” says Nelson.

And then there are the “negative payoffs” of clutterbugging. A pack rat may subconsciously enjoy thinking he or she’s the office nerve center. “If [co-workers] think we have all the information in the world, they come to us for help,” Nelson says. “We get to be the savior.”