17 Things Your Desk Says About Your Personality

What secrets about yourself are you inadvertently broadcasting to your coworkers? Here’s why you should ditch the motivational posters and get some fresh flowers.
If there’s a picture of your family on the front of your desk…

Relationships are very important to you. Displaying a snap or two of your family shows that you are close to your family and that they motivate you to work hard, says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect. However, a couple of cute shots is plenty. If your desk is covered in pictures of your family, dog, wedding, and friends you might be signaling to your coworkers that you’d rather be anywhere but work, she adds. Here’s how to set up a perfectly organized cubicle, according to science.

If there are no pictures of family or friends on your desk…

You value privacy and are good at compartmentalizing. Some people prefer to keep work at work and home at home, and one way to show this is to keep everything on your desk strictly work-related, Lombardo says. This doesn’t mean you don’t have close and loving relationships, just that you don’t like to mix your personal life with your work life, she adds.

If you’re not even sure what color the top of your desk is…

You’re a creative innovator. At face value, a messy desk can be a sign of a disorderly approach to work and life, making you appear overwhelmed and harried, says Susan M. Henney, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown. And while that may be a little true, it doesn’t tell the whole story. “There is also some evidence that those with messy desks are not concerned with conventional or conformist notions of how things ‘should be’ and the world of the mind is far more important to their work process than the ‘world of the desk’,” she explains. Need a creativity boost beyond your desk? A quick 15-minute walk is scientifically proven to improve creativity and cognition.

If your desk is a zoo of stuffed animals…

You’re childlike and fun. Who doesn’t love something soft, cute, and squishy to cuddle, especially on a rough day? A stuffed animal or two may show your warm, playful side (or just that your kids visit you at work often). You can go overboard fast with the kitsch though, and too many toys will simply make you look immature and even socially awkward, Lombardo says.

If your desk is so tidy even Mary Poppins would approve…

You like order and rules. If your motto for your desk is “a place for everything and everything in its place” it’s likely that you enjoy orderliness in other areas of your life as well, Henney says. You work best when you have clear rules and expectations, she says. One caution, however: This may also show that you want to project a “perfect” facade to others and are resistant to change so be careful that your love of order doesn’t morph into rigidity, she adds. Check out these clear signs you’re a perfectionist (and it’s ruining your life).

If you have a collection of puzzles within arm’s reach…

You’re intellectually curious. Everyone needs to take a quick brain break during their workday and if your relaxation method of choice is a small puzzle or game, it shows you enjoy working your mind in different ways and enjoy learning new things, Lombardo says. (Plus it’s one of the 10 proven ways to improve creative thinking.) Again, moderation is key, though. If your desk is covered in puzzles your coworkers will start to wonder if that’s all you do, she adds.

If your desk is covered in piles of papers…

You’re an out-of-the-box thinker. There’s an old saying that an empty desk reflects an empty mind and some people do operate that way, preferring to see everything they’re working with, Henney says. And the thing about pile-makers is that even though they may look disorganized to others, often they have a mental system and know exactly where everything is, she adds. If you want a little more order, however, try these 50 organizing tips you wish you’d known all along.

If you’ve got junk food wrappers or garbage strewn across your desk…

You might be depressed. There’s a difference between being messy and being dirty and if your desk is the latter, it may be an early warning sign of depression, Lombardo says. If you have been feeling down lately, it’s nothing to be ashamed of but it might be time to consider talking to someone, she adds.

If you have Star Wars’ memorabilia from all three decades displayed…

You’re an enthusiastic nerd. Whether you geek out over Star Wars, World of Warcraft, or some other sci-fi world, displaying your hobby at work shows that you consider your “nerdiness” to be a core part of your personality, Henney says. If you’ve got figurines on your desk it also shows you can be really enthusiastic about things you’re interested in, which hopefully will translate to your work projects as well. Find out the 22 tricks you need to know for a clean desk.

If you’ve got a bottle of hand sanitizer front and center…

You’re health conscious (and maybe a little anxious). Unless you work in a daycare or a doctor’s office, having hand sanitizer and bleach wipes handy at all times isn’t the norm. By doing this you’re showing your coworkers that you care about your health (and theirs!) but you may also come across as being a bit of a worrywart or rigid, Lombardo says. Consider moving it to your top drawer, that way you have easy access without broadcasting your anxieties.

If you have a coffee cup with a snarky saying…

You’ve got an irreverent sense of humor and are a little impertinent. I drink coffee for your protection. I survived another meeting that should have been an email. This might be vodka. Funny coffee cups let you say a lot about yourself without saying a word. If you choose something a little edgy, you’re saying that you like to color just a little out of the lines… a little, Henney says. You’re not a serious rebel but you do like to have a little rebellious fun sometimes.

If you have a clock ticking away…

Your schedule is very important to you. Most people have the time readily available on their phone, laptop, or even a wristwatch so taking the extra step to display a clock on your desk shows that you live and die by your schedule and you value being on time, Lombardo says. “It’s a way to keep yourself and your coworkers on time, and on schedule, without having to come out and say it,” she says. And as long as you’re not overly strict about it, it’s probably a good thing—after all, making a detailed schedule is one of the 10 things successful people do.

If you have a vase of fresh flowers on the corner of your desk…

You’re happy and confident. Fresh flowers are an instant pick-me-up, whether they’re a gift from a loved one or something you picked up on the way to work. Placing them on your desk shows that you’re happy and value beauty in your personal spaces, Lombardo says. It may also show you’re relaxed and you want others to feel comfortable in your office too, as nature is very relaxing to most people, she adds. These are the personality traits revealed by your favorite flower.

If your desk is covered in awards and trophies…

You’re very goal-oriented. For some people, their career and how well they do in it are an important way they define themselves, Lombardo says. Putting your awards out in the open tells others that you’re a hard worker, a high achiever, and motivated by setting goals. However, you should limit them to just a few as too many will come off as bragging, she adds. Need a little more motivation? Check out these 10 “dream big” quotes that will inspire you to aim higher.

If you’ve got sticky notes on everything…

You love lists but are a little scattered. Is your desk a sea of brightly colored sticky notes with reminders for everything from an urgent meeting to what to get at the store? Publicly displaying your to-do list shows that you like things written down and get a lot of satisfaction from checking items off your lists, Lombardo says. However, it can also signal to your coworkers that you’re disorganized, frazzled, or have too much work so try to consolidate them to the most essential ones, she adds. You can use the extras for one of these 10 creative ways to use Post-It notes out of the office.

If you’ve got inspirational posters tacked up…

You’re persistent and a problem solver. The right inspirational quote at the right time can be a game-changer, telling you just what you needed to hear. It can go too far though. A small calendar or a couple of pictures taped to your desk are great, but if they’re everywhere it can make you look insecure and unconfident, almost as if you’re waiting for the universe to step in and save you, Lombardo says.

If your desk is totally empty…

You love to be in control and hold your cards close to your chest. Unless it’s your first day at a new job, a completely empty desk is a rarity. Keeping your desk wide open may say that you prefer to control how you give information—about your work and yourself—away to others, Lombardo says. It may also show that you’re easily distracted or sensitive and so to work effectively you have to minimize any potential distractions, she adds. Don’t miss these nine things you should never keep on your desk.

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen

|Reader’s Digest