What your desk says about your working style



Your external space is a reflection of your internal state of mind, after all.

As a child, I used to love rearranging and organising my bedroom. It was my little slice of the world, and I couldn’t stand it if it was messy for more than a day.

Sometimes, the only way my parents would know I was recreating a stressful episode of Extreme Home Makeover was because they would hear me scraping my very heavy, solid wood double bed across the floor into a new position. I now partly blame my bad back on these organisational outbursts. 

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You might be reading this thinking that this couldn’t sound further from how you choose to keep the space around you. You might have had the same furniture, pillows, prints and books, in the same space, for as long as you could remember.

Or you might be unsure of what would even be on your bookshelf because all of your books are stacked up in random piles under dirty (or clean?) washing – you can’t ever be too sure. Psychologists have suggested that the way we choose to present our external spaces is a direct reflection, or expression, of our internal state of mind.

The way you choose to present your environment can send a direct message to those around you about your personality, values, likes, dislikes, and your work ethic and style. Like your childhood bedroom or your current lounge room, your work desk can communicate far more to your employer than you may think.

WFHer’s, don’t look away just yet. Your colleagues might not be able to see your desk right now, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t impact your productivity, wellbeing and overall mindset. After a serious investigation into this topic (I’m talking about scholarly research, people!) I have devised five different desk ‘types’.

Perhaps you might find that you do align with a certain type of desk, but don’t like what your space is communicating to the rest of your office. If you feel a little too ‘seen’ by this one, maybe it’s just the nudge you need to declutter your space and take those empty coffee cups to the kitchen. 



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Let’s begin with the most obvious kind of desk. It’s the kind that has only the essentials, with nothing out of place. A minimalist desk doesn’t necessarily mean that you are strictly a Type A personality, or lacking creativity. In fact, a minimalist desk may communicate that you are an extremely hard worker and that you are actually quite open and outgoing.

Your external space isn’t cluttered with excess stuff and so you are likely to have the internal headspace to take on another task or talk about a new project. However, a minimalist space that lacks anything personal at all, not even a photo or favourite mug, may indicate that you won’t be sticking around for long – be sure to ‘move in’ in some small way if you intend to stay longer than five minutes. 


You’ve got a bunch of empty cups stacked up, post-it notes stuck in every free space possible, a stack of papers (who even uses paper anymore?) and multiple screens in front of you. I don’t need to spell it out any further, we all know what a messy desk looks like. For some, it’s their worst nightmare. For others, it’s simply the only way they can work – fast and loose, a little chaotic, but ultimately, sometimes a messy desk is the best indication of a creative mind. 

However, if you’re not normally prone to a messy desk and out of the blue find yourself falling into this category, it might be time to check yourself. Are you feeling overwhelmed, stressed or taking on a little too much right now? If your space is a reflection of your state of mind, an (uncharacteristically) messy desk is a fair indication that you may need to take a step back and reevaluate your work-life balance. 



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You can be eclectic without being messy. If you’re anything like me, you fall into this category. You’ve probably got a picture or two, maybe a plant, some kind of crystal, and a bunch of books or magazines for inspiration all surrounding your screen.

Every object has its place and you’ve probably styled your desk to make yourself feel at home. If your desk is a colourful, wonderful world of chosen objects, you are probably very flexible and more likely to be open to working on a range of different projects. This kind of desk also communicates that you really love your job, as it sparks joy not only within you but among your coworkers. 


This one may hit hot-deskers or those in a coworking space particularly hard. There’s nothing worse than someone taking up too much space. Like one of those people that reclines their seat as soon as the seatbelt sign goes off on a short-haul flight, you might be a territorial-desker if you spread your stuff out just a little too much. You’ve got books overflowing into your desk buddies’ space, your jacket is slung over someone else’s chair across the room and you’ve left about 10 containers in the office fridge, some growing mould. 

Don’t get me wrong, you definitely feel at home and very comfortable at work, which is a good thing. But the amount of excess space your things take up might come across as a little bit territorial and may indicate that in some way, you want to assert dominance over your coworkers. This might be a subconscious act, so don’t panic! Accidental or not, you are allocated your own desk for a reason, and crowding other people’s space isn’t helpful for anyone. 


Is your desk clouded with pictures of your dream holiday destination or overflowing with recent DIY projects from your latest hobby? Do you constantly have multiple tabs open with recipes for your next dinner party or lists of the best hiking trails near you?

Although it is nice to show your coworkers that you have a life outside of work, this may indicate that your head isn’t completely in the space it needs to be. Sharing your interests is a great way to bond with your colleagues, but tread lightly, unless you want your boss to think that you’d rather be anywhere but there. If that’s the case, perhaps it’s time for a bit of a career or life shakeup.

If this piece has inspired you to change up your desk space, head here for some inspiration.

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