The Messy Desk: How Chaos Breeds Creativity

I have a slight confession…my desk…both  desks actually in my home office and at work…tend to be on the messy side, things are askew, I put seashells in my bonsai planter, I have a rubber duck AND whale stuck to the side of the computer, a colorful (empty) tea tin sits next to it just because I like it there. I tell people I have a system and they usually laugh at me because the papers strewn across my desk in haphazard piles look chaotic and unorganized…but they’re not.

I used to be a bit fanatical about having everything in my work space locked down, sticky noted, filed and stacked to avoid disapproving glances from parents, my boyfriend and occasionally my cat…but a recent study has given us messy creatives even more of an excuse to leave our creative spaces out of order. Why? Because someone FINALLY discovered scientific proof that chaos breeds creativity (I may or may not have sprinkled some confetti over my desk in celebration…I probably will clean it up…)

The study centered around how people structure their environments to achieve their goals…for example. If you want to do your taxes in one fell swoop it’s more effective to keep all tax information well organized…even more importantly to do said taxes sitting down to a clear clean area . Doing this focuses you and allows you to increase your productivity by limiting distractions.

However, (this is the fun part) put someone trying to concept and think creatively in the same space and that person will struggle with coming up with ideas. Why? Because the space lends itself to conformity, order, and more importantly a task that has a set purpose and a set way of achieving that purpose.

Creativity often comes from divergent thinking, from becoming caught up, enamored, distracted, having something catch your eye, seeing something at a new angle, in a way you hadn’t been able to before… the chance glance at something that sparks and emotion or an idea. Disorder can create an environment for fresh insight, taking a creative risk and trying on new ideas and new perspectives.

Pretty amazing, right?

So messy creatives, absolve yourself from some of the guilt surrounding your messy desk, maybe it’s our inner muse working to create a space for us that is conducive to new ideas. Embrace it…within reason of course. If you can’t get any work done because you can’t find anything…or you have…strange smells coming from your work space and half eatin bits littering your floor…invest in some disinfectant please (pretty please).

I just have to add this part because I find it super interesting. This same study also found that people who had orderly environments made healthier eating choices…my answer? Spotless kitchen, messy desk!

So get out there and make you environment WORK for you!

Anyone else have the same experiences? Share them below!

Here’s some links about this topic you can check out to learn more:

Clean Your Desk for Productivity (Keep it Messy for Creativity)

Say Yes to the Messy Desk


What Goes into a Writing Project (Besides Just Writing)?

Anything involving the creative process is never just the physical ACT of creating. Usually that’s the LAST step in the creative process. Some times people on the business end (clients, account managers etc) don’t always understand how this process functions. I always try to make potential clients aware of what is entailed with completing a project.

Besides writing creating a finished product involves:

  • Creating a concept
  • Carrying out Research
  • Initial Consulting with the client about the project
  • Proofreading and editing
  • Making Revisions to drafts
  • Communicating with you (phone, conference, fax, email, etc)

It’s important to remember that all of those steps are BILLABLE steps. Now you know honesty is the best policy. You shouldn’t spend two hours concepting and an extra hour Facebooking and call it three hours. That being said if you’re struggling to come up with a concept and it requires a lot of research it’s not unheard of to take two  hours to research a new topic, fact check, and then if it’s a toughy concepting an approach could take another hour or two…and you haven’t even picked up a pen to start drafting yet.

When giving clients estimates factoring in these extra steps will make sure that you’re being accurately compensated for your time and prevent overages that’ll cause frustration on both ends.  Plus it’s also important to keep in mind a few other things:

  • Building content “from scratch” takes longer (and therefore costs more) than just editing existing copy.
  • Writing content that is search engine optimized is more difficult and time consuming than web content writing that is not concerned with search results.
  • Complex projects, products, and services require more time to research and write.
  • Large sites with many pages, tabs, and nice little nooks and crannies that need to be filled with content will take longer and therefore cost more than simple websites.
  • Sites that are consistently changing may requires on-going web content writing to keep content up to date.

I actually include some of this important information on my business website to make sure that my clients are informed about what my rates include and to create an understanding of what they are asking me to accomplish. I think being upfront is the best way to do business because it builds mutual trust, and mutual trust leads to…repeat clients (and more profit! Yay!)

Did I miss anything? What about non-writing freelancers? What else is involved in your process besides the obvious?

Freelance Reflections 6/27: Freelancing for Free? Yes or No?

Recently I was approached to do a volunteer freelance project for a small charity trying to update and redesign their website.  I accepted and offered to do it completely for free. WHAT?! I know. Free. People said I was crazy, that I should have charged a nominal fee. As a first year freelancer I was immediately conflicted about this decision after the initial response I’d received from others about it. 

It got me thinking about how others might feel when asked to complete a project for nothing. After all, the adage, “Time is Money” is definitely true for freelancers. The more we work the more make and the sooner we can increase our rates as we collect more and more experience. 

In the end I stuck to my guns and completed the project for free and came to the conclusion that really it’s no one’s business if I offer to lend my skills out to a cause that I believe in for nothing. In fact, I did get paid but not in the way that most people expected. In personal satisfaction.

I know, I can’t live off of satisfaction and I wouldn’t recommend anyone offering to volunteer their services if they don’t have enough income to take care of themselves but once I’d finished the project I felt great. So often in freelancing we’re called to complete tasks for clients and we don’t really get to pick and choose who we write for and what we write. This charity happened to be something very personal to me and the opportunity to help them and make a difference is something I don’t come across often. 

Also, the gratitude expressed by the Director of the charity was extremely motivating. They were so grateful for the help, they gave me a fantastic testimonial, and I know for a fact that they will be getting in touch with me in the future for other work and recommending me to people as well. Good press is always good to get, and when it comes with feeling like a hero it’s hard to miss the money I would have made had I charged them. This will open doors to other opportunities down the line and establish professional relationships that will surely help my business grow. 

So Freelancing for Free? I say yes but depending on the project and what you’re being asked to do. Also setting up a boundary for revisions is essential. My maximum is three for paying clients but for pro bono assignments I would probably only allow two rounds of free revisions. After that I say my hourly rate kicks in which is a good way to keep pro bono assignments from dragging on for forever.

What do we think? Have you had any bad or good freelancing projects where you worked pro bono?