August 1

Clear the Decks

Have you ever seen that famous photograph of Albert Einstein’s office, taken the day after he died? It’s made the rounds in creative circles as an example of what genius looks like at work. Piles of books and papers, disorganized files lying about, and no space to set anything on the desk.

Yes, that’s fine. It’s true that the creative process can be messy and disorganized. Right up until his death, Einstein was working on a grand unification theory to unite all the underlying laws of physics. It was heady stuff, and he must have known that he was running short on time.

But I think many people use examples like this as a justification for being disorganized and messy. It’s not that the mess leads to the cre- ativity; it’s that the creativity generates the mess, which then must be reorganized.

One trick that I’ve found tremendously helpful is fairly simple: when I don’t know what to do next, I clean. I find something to organize, file, put away, tuck into a drawer. I organize my desk or my computer desk- top. I do something to bring a little more order to my world.

The funny thing is, in the process of doing that, I often experience a creative spark. Order often yields chaos, but it’s rare that chaos leads to order.

When you have a few minutes today while thinking about a project or how to reply to an email, spend that time organizing or cleaning your workspace. You might find that the additional order makes even your thoughts clearer.

When you don’t know what to do, organize.


is there anything in your life that needs to be ordered right now?

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