It’s amazing how easily our eyes adjust to chaos. Papers, books, a stapler, a roll of film, a ruler – quite a few things you’ve no intention of using – all spread out on your desk, and you don’t notice them. Maybe there’s a voice in the back of your head saying “I really need to clean my desk,” but it’s hard to wake yourself up and see the God-awful, soul-wrenching, vomit-inducing, disgraceful pile of crap that was once a workplace. If you haven’t experienced this feeling personally, take it from me: it’s a very easy trap to fall into.
As you may have guessed, it’s “Clean your desk with the blogosphere” time here at WBg (see what I did there,) which signals the start of a new semester. I’m always – not shocked, but exasperated – by how much of a mess my desk can become in just one half of a semester. In a way, I’m fortunate that I’m sensitive to dust: when I walk into a room and my nose gets stuffy, it’s time to clean. A few days ago, however, I took a good, hard look at my desk and realized what a trash heap it was. If the principle business of life is converting chaos into order, then an alien might have easily concluded that I was long dead. But when you’re in the moment – working on a project, studying for a test, writing a blog post – sometimes you’re so focused on what you’re doing that cleanliness doesn’t even occur to you. The thought that flashes through your brain is “papers in way of computer: move pile of papers.” Which you do. Where do you move them? Irrelevant – doesn’t even come up*. After all, this email you’re writing is taking up 99% of your attention, and in the 1% left over, the best solution you can think of is to move the papers to some indeterminate place.
Of course, this is all a very round-about way of saying that putting things away doesn’t really occur to me when I’m thinking about something else. Maybe some people would call this a “one tracked mind.” I call it concentration. And as long as I can get myself to clean my desk once or twice a semester, I’m fine with it.
* Of course, another way to mitigate this problem is the strategy I’ve suggested before: make it easy for yourself to be organized. If there’s a place for miscellaneous papers right on your desk, then you’ll probably put then there.