It’s Okay: To Be Disorganized, Messy At Work


Jun 21, 2020


Image credit: Wikipedia

In It’s Okaywe defend our most embarrassing, unpopular opinions.

Amid discourse for and against lockdown productivity, I remembered often lurking in an online community of young, ambitious girls working hard towards their goals. Known as the studyblr (study + Tumblr) community on the microblogging website Tumblr, the community initially began as an attempt to document productivity and progress. This was a rare, wonderful place on the Internet where young girls could help each other achieve, minus any focus on their appearance or bodies.

But, posts on study tumblrs soon were elaborate enough to seem indistinguishable from an average lifestyle blog. More and more young girls felt pressured to adapt to form over function — they weren’t motivated to study without the perfect pens or pretty illustrated self-customized planners (bullet journals). A lot of these systems and environments required to study felt pointless — if creating systems of productivity takes so much time, how is anyone getting work done?

Study tumblrs and online bullet journaling spaces are women-dominated spaces. And this worrying trend falls right into place with women’s relationship with organization, and the busywork involved. Research has proved that written organization systems and general cleanliness improves productivity and decreases stress, which means the online study community is on the right path. But women feel the need to over-perform their commitment to cleanliness and organization, due to centuries of expectations of domestic housekeeping. Girls are cleaner, girls are neater, girls have better handwriting, girls may not be doing much because they are directed to focus on frills and cursives and planners as elaborate art forms, rather than the tasks they note down on these planners.

This makes you think about larger expectations around organization tasks. Women are given way more busywork and office housekeeping tasks, which they’ve quietly learnt to expect, because they were praised for their handwriting and their thouroughness, rather than the brilliance of their ideas. A common tip that women gave each other when they slowly realized that they were being inundated with nothing tasks was to fail very loudly at them — put salt in the coffee your boss asks you to make, forget to bring refreshments to the team meeting, get them to focus on how valuable your brain is rather than your ability to be a good hostess. Perhaps, that tip can stretch all the way to how we plan and organize — fail at the frills, tick off the tasks.

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I push for messiness, because it is a more transparent characteristic — both to ourselves, and those around us. Messy people who get work done are seen as having a method to their madness. And when messy people cannot get work done, the fact that they need help shows pretty clearly, too. Here, messiness isn’t to denote the person who has a hoarding problem, or the person who turns in sloppy work. Messy people work with what they have, focusing on productivity as means to an end. The best example is doctors, who are famously known to have chicken-scratch handwriting, and are excused for it, because they’re saving lives.

The best thing about embracing messiness is in its adaptability. In an interview with The Verge, people who ran study tumblrs said that they felt the pressure to organize with nice things and to maintain an aesthetic. This made them rely on ideal environments and expensive things as motivation to work hard, rather than becoming more creative– the way a messy person would. Sometimes, clarity is in being a slob, and that’s fine.

This is not to say that attractive looking productivity is inherently bad. People have argued that planning as an art form is meditative, soothing, and effective. What matters, always, is in knowing what deserves your time the most, and working towards it the hardest.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.

  1. radhika verma

    I loved this article! It talks about a perception that’s so deeply ingrained. Kudos! 👏


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