Last week I looked around my home office and my shoulders slumped. I arrived at the crossroads: either I got to work and cleaned up the piles or I would die as a paper hoarder, suffocating under the continually reproducing stacks of papers, never to have finished my research. But what about that aphorism, “a messy desk is a sign of a creative mind”?
My dad practiced public accounting during my formative years and as such introduced me to neatly piled folders full of important papers. He had two types of tidy paper piles: the yellow files sequestering tax records and the thick, grosgrain bound, burnt-sienna colored expandable files containing all other business related documents.
He organized both folder types according to urgency across his office credenza. While these stacks of files existed in steady state throughout the year, a surge started forming towards the end of October, peaked during the first quarter of the year and settled out somewhere prior to April 15 every spring.
My paper piles are scattered, inside out and backwards piles of technical papers, memorabilia, receipts to be entered into spreadsheets, new articles I need to read, and business ideas- in no particular order. In fact, my fellow grad students at MT Tech voted my paper piles the office hazard for slips, trips and falls.
Eventually they shamed me into tidying up my paper piles. I crunched stacks of technical papers through my 13/32″ diameter three-hole punch and arranged them according to topic in giant three ring binders. Then I graduated, hauled all those tidy binders with me and landed in SD.
Creative people may be messy, but how creative can I be if I cannot think straight, or at all? I started yanking old binders off the shelf, emptying them into the recycle bin and replacing their contents with new research materials. My floor and desk are free of paper piles past their angle of repose, sliding into chaos.
Writing my dissertation background and literature review does require a bit of controlled chaos. Once the papers were in their respective binders and organized, I could pull out one major topic area,
- Shale – General
- Shale – Marcellus
- Tensile testing
- Uses of/Need for
- High pressure pulse decay
- Mathematical definition/relationships
- GCTS RTR-1000
spread the papers around on my floor, and enjoy the creative chaos.
Far from being an impediment to creativity, chaos is an essential ingredient. Our brains not only make order out of chaos, they also make chaos out of order. The creative person doesn’t view chaos as an abyss but, rather, as a mother lode of information…
The creative person collaborates with chaos, but collaboration is not the same as capitulation. Perennial chaos is hardly conducive to creativity any more than perfect order is, ‘yet somewhere between the two, there is a magical meeting of overview and surprise, which creativity builds upon.’ … Creative people are forever dancing in this space, on the edge of chaos.
–Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius
My friends, enjoy the chaos. Go create something magnificent. I cannot wait to see, hear, read what you come up with!