Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 13, 2004


A messy desk a good sign of competence and skill


      I hate a clean, organized desk. On rare occasions, I had one while working at Trinity Church in Opelika. My colleagues were always stunned to see it, but those who knew me best knew where my stuff was. They knew I had jammed it all into my desk drawers.

          My friend, Earl Ballard, was my inspiration. His desk was always neatly organized. I hated it. Yet every time I saw his desk, I felt guilty about the piles on my own desk. The guilt would build up until, at least twice a year, I would go to work early and clear my desk. Then I would ask Earl to come over for coffee so he could admire it.

          I waited in vain for a complement but seldom got one. I finally figured out why. Earl was so used to a clean desk that he took it for granted that a brilliant pastor would have a neat desk. At least some of the time, I tried to prove he was right.

          Earl was a good man to have on your team. He was a good judge of people. No one, however, is perfect, and I found Earl’s judgment flawed when it came to messy desks. He would say, “A messy desk indicates a cluttered mind. A neat desk suggests the person is well organized.” It was after such a conversation that I would clean off my desk, sometimes taking my stuff home in several plastic grocery bags.

          I had a good laugh recently while visiting Earl’s office. He had no idea why. His desk was cluttered with little piles of stuff. Even though his piles were somewhat organized, his desk lacked the usual neat appearance of the old days. My glee turned to sadness, however, by the thought that perhaps I had more influence on Earl than I had imagined.

          My own philosophy is that a messy desk is a sign of a hard working person with great creativity. It takes a lot of skill to find something on my desk. I have piles everywhere but I know what pile to look in when I need to find something. Only a person with my kind of competence could find a lost document as quickly as I can. With me, hope springs eternal; nothing is ever lost. It is here somewhere, so I keep rambling until it shows up.

          The best way for me to lose something is to file it. If I file it, I forget where it is filed. The other day I searched for the manual for my riding lawn mower. Since it is a John Deere, I looked under “J.” It was not there. I looked under “M” thinking in vain. I thought perhaps I had filed it under “G” for grass. Finally I looked under “L,” and there it was.

          What brought up the subject of a messy desk was a column in the newspaper this week by Tim Higgins. He told about a new study, which finds that most employers factor in an employee’s level of organization when considering annual reviews and pay increases.

          One company even dispatches workers to look in the car window of an applicant’s car to see if it is clean while the interview is being held. If there is clutter on the car floor, this indicates the applicant does not have organizational skills.

          What a pitiful, disgraceful attitude! Any fool should know that if you want to find a highly skilled, competent, hard working person, you look for a messy desk. The reason is obvious. The person with a neat desk does not really want to work. That is why all that stuff is crammed into the drawers of that neat desk.

          I guess it is good that I am semi-retired. No one comes by my study now to gaze at the piles all around me. However, I want you to know when my wife drops in, I always clean the pile out of my extra chair so she can chat with me for a while.

          Three cheers for the brilliant people who have a messy desk!  + + + +