I went to visit an architect the other day. He’s just starting out in business and is working out of a basement flat.
“I like to work in mess,” he told me, waving his arm in the direction of papers, crockery and an overflowing kitchen sink. “It helps me be creative.”
I know what he means. My desk has historically looked like a crack addict’s, with a substrate of papers, grotty cups, broken pencils and (pre-2005) overflowing ashtrays that could easily make you assume the Mac on the top had been stolen.
And even at its tidiest, my desk has always had ‘The Pile’.
The Pile is a reproach, a nagging conscience made paper. It’s a tower of copy-edited manuscripts, supporting documents, brochures, acknowledgement slips, memos, coffee stained clean-back A4 and God-know-what-else.
I’ve always flattered myself that I know what’s in The Pile. But the truth could be summed up by the words ‘little of value’. Every three months I gather The Pile and its undealt-with predecessors and chuck the whole lot in the recycling bin.
But over the last few weeks, things have changed. I’ve made a determined effort to keep my desk tidy, and I’ve bought 100 square-cut folders to help me.
Now, each time I work on a client’s project, I shove all the paperwork in a folder and write their name on the front.
If I switch to another client’s work, I put all the papers back in the folder, remove it from the desk and replace it with the new client’s file.
Man, 37, discovers ‘filing’
The result has been miraculous. I’m being much more productive. Not because of the lack of clutter, but because of the extra discipline. Only having one client’s work on my desk prevents me from switching between projects, so each one gets my undivided attention.
So to get back to the question, I’d say copywriters don’t need tidy desks.
But if a tidy desk gives you the extra focus you need to work better, then I suggest you go for it.
Besides, as the great David Ogilvy said:
(Today I am a martinet in making my staff keep their offices shipshape. A messy office creates an atmosphere of sloppiness, and leads to the disappearance of secret papers.)
Now I just need to find a way of sorting out the desktop on my Mac. I’m ashamed to say The Pile there is a folder called ‘For Filing’.