We think of productive people as being tidy, organized, focused. But when it comes to the creative process, it turns out that these rules don’t apply.

In this episode, I sit down with Tim Harford, author of the book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, for a conversation about why every habit you thought was bad is good again.

We talk about why piling stuff on your desk is more efficient than filing it away, why having autonomy over your space trumps being tidy, and how procrastination can actually be productive — if you reconceptualize it as “slow-motion multitasking.”

Key takeaways from our conversation:

  • Why “piling” is more efficient than “filing”
  • How diversity makes us uncomfortable but also better problem solvers
  • Why people get more done when they arrange their own workspace
  • The power of slow-motion multitasking and allowing your creative projects to cross-pollinate
  • Why “goal harmony” might be more important than team building

Go Deeper

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Favorite Quotes

“Everybody will tell you that if you can be bothered, then a filing strategy is going to work better. That piling paper up is a moral weakness, and we’d all be better if we could just have the willpower to do it. But Whittaker found the pilers are actually doing better.”

“Whatever creative project you’re working on, things go wrong, you get stuck, you need a break, you need a change of scene. And if you have more than one project to get enthused about, your procrastination on the project you’re stuck on suddenly becomes something creative in and of itself.”

“We’ve got lots and lots of evidence that people seek out like-minded people. This is making us worse versions of ourselves, and it’s reducing our ability to solve problems. It’s making us feel comfortable and so we are misjudging — we think we’re smarter as a result, but we’re actually dumber.”


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A shortlist of the ideas and research that comes up in our conversation:

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