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It's 2018, where is my paperless office?

A new study finds your coworkers might see you as neurotic and uncaring just because your work area is cluttered. Let's meet by the water cooler to discuss!

Psychologists at the University of Michigan (Flint and Ann Arbor campuses) explored the dirty nooks and crannies of workplace messiness and how it affects perceptions of an employee's personality. 160 study participants were assigned to sit in one of three types of offices: spotless, generally neat and whoa, is that a dust bunny on your keyboard?

All of the offices were decorated identically, except for the varying levels of clutter -- e.g., books, papers strewn about, coffee cups, coats thrown on chairs, and so on.

As you'd probably guess, the messier offices were rated lower. But more than that, the study participants rated the employee's extraversion (social), agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experiences, and here's the dirt: the messier the office, the more likely the employee was rated lower in all of these areas.

As Phys.org reports:

In everyday life, if people think that a person might be careless, cranky and uncaring because his/her office is very messy, then these impressions could subsequently impact how—or even whether—they decide to deal with him/her in the future, either on a personal or professional basis, the researchers say.

If your office is messy, make sure to be extra nice and caring toward your coworkers. Make every assignment your best work. And when the printer flips out on you, pick up all the paper on the floor.

Also keep in mind that past studies have concluded that incredibly smart people can be incredibly disorganized. Remember your college professor who welcomed you into his office and all you could see from the doorway were his two eyes peering over the three-foot-high piles of paper on his desk? I do. The absent-minded professor trope is real.

Here's a novel idea: Maybe we should blame all the paper instead of the person?

Paper, Paper Everywhere!
Paper is still the bane of my existence in 2018, whether I'm working or relaxing. My home office and my kitchen both have The Stack -- e.g., a stack of papers usually about 6-7 inches deep that ranges from school flyers (OMG, so many!) to paid bills I need to file to important papers I need for upcoming errands to coupons I want to use (but will look up on the store app because I forgot the paper coupon on the kitchen counter).

I go through this pile weekly, trying to reduce and recycle, but the stack returns quickly to its original height. The paper just keeps coming. At least The Stack is contained to one (okay, two), slightly-leaning pile(s), right? Right.

Amazingly, I can tell you where any piece of paper is, too. "Oh, it's in the kitchen pile," I'll say as my teenager is looking for a specific school form. "Look in the middle of the pile, next to last month's cable bill."

I sometimes feel defeated by the never-ending paper deluge. I try, but I can't keep up. Hey, all I want is for my home and office to look like a photo ripped from the pages of Architectural Digest, where everything looks perfect. Minimalist. Like nobody actually lives there. Living the dream! My husband tells me this level of perfection is not possible, since we actually live here.

This standard of desk perfection feels unattainable. I'm always on the outside looking in, and I'm still working on the basics. Why does my office desk have 30 dull pencils, but my favorite pen is missing? Who took it?

So I have sympathy for the average office clutterer. I'm old enough to remember when the "paperless office" was only a year away. It will be here any minute now, allowing our work areas to attain Architectural Digest levels of streamlined neatness. Our work areas would look amazing.

Yet, we still have so much paper to deal with every day. In fact, we're drowning in it. Why is that? Where the hell is my paperless office? It's probably parked between the flying car and jetpack I've been waiting for since 1978. Any minute now, right?

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