What Does Your Desk Say About You?

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What Does Your Desk Say About You?

Words by Mr Justin Quirk

2 September 2015

Some men see their workstation as a trophy cabinet, others are lucky if they can see it at all.

Given that we spend so much of our lives at our desks, it stands to reason that they become portals into our personalities. Whether it’s a family shrine, three-dimensional humblebrag or health-and-safety-incident-in-waiting, the way you arrange your desk says a lot about you. See if you can spot yourself and your work colleagues in the descriptions that follow…

The Minimalist

He maintains his workspace with the sort of unbending purity that apprentice Buddhist monks might deem “a bit much”. No tangled wires, no personal possessions, one really nice pen (but no paper) and a screen re-calibrated to show white text on a black background, thus minimising energy expenditure and eye-strain. He appears strangely impervious to heat and cold, wears the same outfit all year round and doesn’t drink anything beyond ionised water and espresso that’s so strong it might well have been pumped straight from the wreckage of Deepwater Horizon. The lack of a visible bin or phone raises the worrying possibility that he might be ingesting waste paper and communicating telepathically. There is a faint smell of hand-sanitiser around the desk at all times. Also note that he has a completely different (ie, better) chair to everyone else.

The Hoarder

He spends his entire working day in an ever-expanding nest of junk, like one of those traumatised documentary cases who had a deprived childhood and now can’t throw anything away, ever. Having filled the desk drawers to bursting point with broken telephones, chargers, dead Biros, bank statements, small denomination coins and travel-sized toiletries, the Hoarder has now moved onto the surrounding areas. The office cleaner refuses to come within 10 feet, so the bin is a compressed geological survey made up of sedimentary layers of old Subway wrappers, lost credit cards and at least three pieces of legally sensitive company paperwork. The under-desk space is firmly wedged with mouldering gym kit, “must-keep” magazines from 2009, extension leads and what appears to be a compact version of Ms Tracey Emin’s “My Bed_”_ installation, featuring two dead mice. The chaos continues in the digital realm with a desktop cluttered with a mosaic of unsorted screen grabs. The electronic virus that eventually evolves into a Terminator-style “Skynet” and kills us all will emanate from this machine.

The Family Guy

Who’s the daddy? He is. There are a few clues: a large framed photo of his son on the desk. There’s a free-form kindergarten crayon doodle labelled “Daddy” affixed to the side of the monitor, along with his original ultrasound that is just as abstract. His laptop background image is a giant close-up of his son’s ice cream-smeared face. Around his chair are gift bags full of ludicrously overpriced Minions-related junk that he seems to spend rather a lot of company time shopping for online. The theme-park mug laser-printed with a photo of him and his son on the log flume is kept on the desk rather than in the kitchen where it might get used by someone else, although the way the picture is gradually fading away seems ominously reminiscent of the final scenes in Back to the Future. He lives in his own Disney World and hums the theme tune to Frozen so often that you now have it on loop as a particularly insidious earworm. “Let It Go” indeed.

Mr Analogue

This digital-age refusenik puts the anal in analogue. Two-thirds of his desk is taken up with a thumping great manual typewriter – and not just any model, but a lovingly preserved Smith Corona. He doesn’t actually use it, of course, but he can and that is the point. He wears an ancient, military-issue watch that he takes off the moment he sits down and lays out next to his coffee cup (having hand-ground the beans with a burr mill, obviously). He used to have a miniature paper calendar on his desk until someone (ahem) came back to the office one night and scrawled obscenities on future days for him to find later in the year. You can forget contacting him out of office hours as his one concession to modernity – the cumbersome Nokia 6310i which sits in a charger the size of a pitcher’s mitt on his desk – gets switched off the second that he leaves the office, and heads out of town to the Cabin. “No reception up there, anyway – besides, weekends are for disconnecting, yeah?” He ostentatiously claims not to know what Game of Thrones is, and never to have heard a Ms Taylor Swift song, although thinks he might have once skim-read a Mr Sasha Frere-Jones piece on her in The New Yorker.

The Action Man

His iPhone is encased in something bulkily indestructible and features as its login screen a shot of him with a Mohawk somersaulting through a wall of fire at the last obstacle race he made you sponsor him for. Whiffy sneakers, really short shorts and crusty CrossFit gloves pile up by the desk. Countless supplement jars are strewn around with names like “Thermocrush 6000” which he knocks back with a gulp of Bulletproof Coffee made with butter from enormous, grass-fed cows before calling his ex-wife on Facetime for a really animated conversation about that month’s access visits to their son (who has the same name as him). A plastic medal haul that would have put President Idi Amin to shame is hanging off the side of his monitor. Every time you look over, he’s either squeezing a stress ball or scarfing chicken breasts from Tupperware. He stands up to work (“like Ernest Hemingway”), spends every meeting doing his stretches, performs walking lunges around the office like a Monty Python sketch, and recently took a phone call while absent-mindedly twirling a greying jockstrap around his finger.

The Show-off

Despite being several years younger than you, this bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young cub (we said cub) seems to have limitless disposable income for pimping his workspace. Hence having a monitor so big it’s not actually commercially available yet, headphones on their own stand, a prototype Moleskine notebook with his initials debossed into the leather cover, limited-edition toy figures made by graffiti artists you pretend to have heard of, a lamp which looks like a spare part for the Large Hadron Collider and a screensaver which you thought was evidence of a broken logic board but awkwardly turned out to be a new piece from the Central St Martins degree show. Lunchtime is a steady stream of deliveries from various apps that you’re going to be reading about in a month’s time, all of which make your own lunch look about as appealing as Soylent. He somehow already has two industry awards prominently displayed on his desk, and a Polaroid of him on holiday with a friend who you think is Ms Gigi Hadid – though you can’t bring yourself to ask.

Desk Essentials

Illustrations by Mr Joe McKendry