Winston Churchill’s Alternative Clean Desk Policy

When’s the last time you read something about productivity that made you stop and rethink how you manage your time? I just finished reading Winston Churchill’s biography and one of the many treasure buried inside the book was his own version of the notorious clean desk policy.

winston churchill

Winston Churchill’s Alternative Clean Desk Policy

If you’ve worked at any large corporation, you’ve probably been trained to clear your desk before you leave. At my last Fortune 100 client, we had to clear the desk every evening, remove all clippings to the cubicle wall, and secure the desk.

Now this makes sense from a security point of view. It’s good business practice to secure data, be tidy, and leave a good impression. Cleanliness is godliness and all that…

But it’s not great for productivity.

Here’s what Winston Churchill did.

His desk was never tidied; rather it was left ‘in a mess’ every evening. When questioned about this, his response was along the following lines:

  1. Right now I know where everything is. If I file it away, then I lose time finding the critical document, memo, map or whatever the next time.
  2. Because he worked incredible long hours, often getting less than four hours a day, the idea of a ‘traditional’ working day didn’t really apply. When did one day stop and another start?
  3. There was no benefit.

And it’s the third point that’s interesting.

Most of us use the Clean Desk Policy more as a legacy from a previous firm. If it’s good enough for Microsoft, IBM, Oracle etc, surely it’s good enough for you.

It is true? What works for them may not apply to your circumstances.

How messy do you leave your desk every night?