Want more self-control? Clean your office.

by | Apr 8, 2016 | General Productivity

Takeaway: Tidying up your working and living environment has been shown to lead to more willpower and self-control.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 0s.


Photo: seventysevenrpm, CC

I’ve written in the past about how “clearing to neutral” helps you focus better and tackle procrastination and focus better. “Clearing to neutral” can include cleaning the dishes after eating a meal, closing every program on your work computer before departing the office, or organizing the piles of papers on your desk when you’re done for the day. Whenever you finish an activity, clearing your environment to a neutral state—like by cleaning the dishes in your sink after you cook a meal, closing every program on your work computer before you leave the office, or cleaning the pile of stuff before you leave for the day— can helps you later procrastinate less, and approach your work with a fresh mind. I’d argue that this is also why a Maintenance Day ritual is so powerful.

WillpowerBut while this idea sounds great in theory, that’s simply what it was—a theory. But in Roy Baumeister and John Tierney’s book Willpower, the authors mention a study that validates this very idea, and how tidying up your environment can even lead help you to have more discipline and self-control. In case you’re looking for an extra kick to tidy up where you work and live, here’s the excerpt.

I highly recommend the book, if you haven’t read picked it up already!

In case you’re looking for some extra motivation to tidy up where you work and live, here’s the excerpt from Willpower:

“In one experiment, a group of participants answered questions sitting in a nice neat laboratory room, while others sat in the kind of place that inspires parents to shout, “Clean up your room!” The people in the messy room scored lower in self-control on many measures, such as being unwilling to wait a week for a larger sum of money as opposed to taking a smaller sum right away. […]

In a similar experiment conducted online, some participants answered questions on a clean, well-designed website on which everything was correctly positioned and properly spelled. Others were asked the same questions on a sloppy website with spelling errors and other problems. On the messy site, people were more likely to say that they would gamble, rather than take a sure thing, that they would curse and swear, and that they would take an immediate but small reward rather than waiting for a larger but delayed reward. The messy website also elicited lower donations to charity.”

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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