Mastering Clutter – A little secret to Boost your Productivity

“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.” – Joshua Becker

A short story on Clutter

A friend of mine had the habit of losing his stuff – at Critical times. Once he lost his child’s identity proof, prior to appearing for a visa interview. It really bothered him and even affected him. He felt that his efforts at organizing had failed.

During a chance meeting at his place, I was astonished at the sight of his room. It resembled a tornado hit zone — Loads of books strewn over the floor and tables, unwieldy cables running across like serpents, Sticky notes that were scattered all through the walls, whiteboard with illegible diagrams, overflowing envelopes with photographs, heaps of CDs and DVDs etc.,., I instantly realized why he kept losing things.

I quizzed him to find out if his room was that way by chance, or by design. To my bafflement, he answered that it was one of his better days. I bluntly told him, that without ridding clutter, Organization was going to be impossible.

Subsequently, I took some time out, coached him out of this issue and helped him to unclutter his room. It took us a few days, but we got there, till his room looked totally organized.

From where he was, he has made giant strides now. It was a lightning bolt moment, that transformed him for good.

Neuro-Science Research backs this.  A research carried out by Scientists Mc.Main and Kestner S. states that when we are surrounded by clutter, our ability to focus is severely limited. Here’s what it says in Neuro Science terms:

Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.

But Clutter is a Reality…

Let us face it.  All of us accumulate clutter, through out our lives. There is no running away from clutter. Everyday, We are bombarded with physical mails, letters, bills, invoices, digital mails, messages, images, videos, notifications — you name it. When we have dependents the problem gets worse, because we need to deal with their clutter as well. However, there are effective ways to deal with Clutter.

How Clutter impacts our Productivity negatively

Clutter is insidious. It creeps up slowly,  grows behind the scenes and paralyzes us when we least expect.

Clutter not only occupies physical space, but also mental space. it signals unfinished business. .When we have cluttered environments —  at a subconscious level, we feel that we are leaving tasks incomplete.  It makes us feel guilty for not dealing with it.  The guilt grows with time and weighs down heavily on our productivity. It leads to Stress.

It make our minds jump from task to task, not letting us finish anything effectively. Clutter also distracts our focus and  diminishes our brain’s ability to make decisions. We can end up wasting precious time just searching for something or the other, when we can put that time to Productive use.

The upshot is that we get in to analysis paralysis, not knowing where to begin or what to do.

Besides Physical Clutter, we also have to deal with digital clutter, mental clutter, work related clutter, financial clutter, study clutter, relationships clutter etc.,

Top Reasons for Clutter

We accumulate clutter for a variety of reasons, but here are the broad ones:

(a) Sentiments:    “I don’t use this book, but it was passed on to me from my great grandfather. I shouldn’t be breaking this chain. So, I intend to keep it for my future generations!” < Can you scan the book and store it digitally instead of carrying it around? Is this the only way or the best way to remember your great grand father? >

(b) Anxiety “I don’t have a use for these books right now, but what if my daughter needs these books 20 years later? ” < What makes you think that in 20 years the facts of the books are irrelevant? Or your daughter like you, may not need it at all?>

(c) Hoarder’s mindset: “It give me a kick, when I collect these books. Yeah, they keep accumulating space, but I can proudly show off my collection to my friends ” < Unless you are going to be rewarded in someway, this is just a waste of time. It just gives you some bragging rights. Your friends aren’t going to think any better of you because of this habit. Unless this is truly something, you are passionate about doing, there is no point>

The Benefits of an Uncluttered Life

An uncluttered life is simple and offers Freedom; Freedom from not having to manage what we don’t have to. And therefore Focus on what We want to.

It is a liberating feeling that we can only feel for ourselves, after an uncluttering session. Our ability to focus vastly improves, because we have only a few things to focus upon. Our Decision Making also becomes way simpler, since we have a fewer choices to make. Our stress levels reduce. We are positioned for much Greater Productivity.

How to Deal with Clutter?

Dealing with clutter is not very straight forward. We have to do internal work (on our minds), before we attempt to do something external. After all, things come to us for a reason. We can make  quick decisions on how to unclutter on certain things, but not all.  The technique below can help you to unclutter effectively

An 8 Step Technique to Unclutter

Let us take an example. Let us say you have a room full of books, that you don’t know what to do. You are simply overwhelmed. Here’s a simple technique.

Carry 3 empty buckets with you.  Label Bucket 1 as “I need these”. Label Bucket 2 as “I don’t need these” . Label Bucket 3 as ” I am not sure”.

Step 1: Go through the books one by one.

Step 2: If you are 100% sure, you need the book put in Bucket 1.

Step 3: If you are 100% sure, you don’t need the book , put it in Bucket 2.

Step 4: If you are not sure as of now, put it in Bucket 3.

Step 5: Donate , Sell or Recycle Bucket 2.

Step 6: Put away Bucket 3 in a loft or another place, with a reminder to look back in 6 months. Don’t open it for 6 months.

Step 7: Arrange the contents of Bucket 1 (with much lesser books) within your room.

If you still have too many books in Bucket 1, repeat steps  1 through 7 with the contents of Bucket 1.

Step 8: After 6 months,  open Bucket 3. If you find that you didn’t need those books in Bucket 3, then donate or recycle Bucket 3 also. That just means that you were keeping those books originally out of anxiety or sentiments.If you had a need for any books in Bucket 3 in the past 6 months, put them in Bucket1.

You can substitute any object for Books, in the physical world. You can follow a similar technique for your digital clutter. You can replace buckets with folders in the digital world.

8 Strategies to Master Clutter in your life

(1) Realize and internalize that Clutter is a Reality and a Problem

Clutter is like wetting the bed. It may feel warm at the beginning, but will get messy soon after. If you are a hoarder, you are perhaps going to have to change your outlook to clutter itself, and learn to let go. You should  internalize and commit to an Uncluttered life. If you aren’t convinced, your efforts won’t get too far.

(2) Have  Well-Defined Rules on Clutter

How will you deal with various types of clutter?. Define rules and write them down if it helps. How am I going to deal with my mail clutter? Digital clutter? Financial Clutter? Books clutter? Sentimental Clutter? Relationships Clutter?etc.,

(3) Recognize that Uncluttering is a Continuous Process

You can’t get it done once and be done with it. To focus on the Essentials, you must unclutter. You have to deal with it periodically, perhaps every hour or every day or every week (depending on your commitment and available time). You have to review your progress at-least weekly or monthly. Schedule recurring times in your calendar to Unclutter something, and stick to those entries.

(4) Prevention is better than Cure

Instead of reacting to clutter, you can take proactive steps.  Take actions that can really eliminate clutter, even before it nears you.

General

  • Unsubscribe from unnecessary mailing lists (both physical and electronic), social feeds and RSS Feeds
  • Deal with them at Source: Shred physical junk mail (letters), and confine to trash — right at the mail box. Don’t take them home
  • Cut down on magazine or newspaper subscriptions that you don’t get time to read (use electronic version if you have to)
  • Clean up the interiors of your car. Get rid of bills, toys and other things that don’t belong in there.
  • Instead of buying CDs, DVDs and Books that occupy your space, rent them
  • If you already have books, CDs, DVDs etc., that you have no use for, consider selling them online or donating them to a library or a needy person
  • Shred documents that are older than a certain number of years, if you are not legally required to hold them
  • If your mind is cluttered (with too many unhelpful thoughts), take to meditation
  • If your to do list is too long, you may have to unclutter the list and free up sometime
  • Sign up for Donot disturb, so that you can stop all emails in 1 go
  • Inculcate uncluttering as a value to your children

Finance

  • Subscribe for online statements, instead of physical statements
  • Scan electronic copies of physical receipts, and store them electronically; Shred physical copies.
  • Rationalize the no. of bank accounts or investment accounts or mutual funds that you have. Close dormant or infrequently used ones. You will save lot of money and energy
  • Periodically review all your paid subscriptions (club memberships,  TV Channel Subscriptions, Internet  paid offerings etc.,), and cancel if you are not getting value or time; it can save you Big Money

Shopping

  • Don’t buy products or services that you rarely use, or a variant that you may already have.  Question every purchase. Implement One in One out rule (If you buy one, get rid of something else)
  • Don’t ever shop without a shopping list. If something is not in your shopping list don’t buy
  • Don’t go to shops if you don’t have to buy anything

Computer

  • Scan your hard-drive, and optimize your storage in your computer.
  • Delete unnecessary files and uninstall unused applications. De-fragment your hard drive
  • Setup mail filtering rules that will automatically organize a majority of your emails (for e.g, if you get bank statements by email, setup an email filter to move it to a Banks Statements Folders automatically, but periodically review these)
  • If your unsubscribe request , doesn’t work,  block such mails to go to Spam folder
  • Clean up your desktop settings. Let it contain no more than 10 icons at a time
  • Schedule jobs to backup your files periodically and free up storage
  • Move Photos to the Cloud, and keep only the latest version on computer
  • Delete duplicate photos immediately (most software help you with this)

Social

  • Delete Friend Requests that you aren’t sure should be your friends.
  • If you already have too many friends that you are struggling to keep up with, take an inventory of your Social friends; unfollow those that aren’t in touch with you for long, or have no relevance for you or you find them toxic or as energy vampires.
  • Delete social media accounts that you aren’t using at all. Don’t worry you can always recreate them later if required
  • Exit from Whatsapp groups or other application groups where you aren’t comfortable being there in the first place

(5) Start Small or Big but Start somewhere

Clutter can get overwhelming. Depending on your personality type , you may want to start Small, or even Big (based on what works for you).  But just get started. Take those baby steps.  If you are attempting to unclutter your house, you can start with your living room, and progress forward. If you are uncluttering your computer, start with one folder and move from there.

If you want to go big bang and see results, imagine something big. What would you do if you have to move to a new house within 2 days? What if your computer crashed, and you have 1 hour of life left on your Hard drive.?

Remember, it is always easier to keep up than to catch up.

(6) Share your intent and your Uncluttering Progress Publicly

If you are one, who thrives by accountability, you can share your intent of uncluttering publicly, say on Social Media, or in your friends’ circles. Take before and after pictures (of cluttered areas), and share as appropriate

(7) Have an Accountability Partner

It is normal to backslide in your efforts to unclutter.  Have an Accountability Partner, who will keep you honest with your efforts . If you backslide he or she should really question you, and give you feedback. That way , you can make course corrections.

(8) Reward yourself when you have Uncluttered

After you achieve your goals, or as you achieve them, keep motivating yourself. Reward yourself (of course not with clutter) with something you enjoy. Note that an uncluttered environment is a reward by itself.

What are your experiences with Clutter? Do you adopt other techniques in managing Clutter and keeping it away? Please leave your comments.

 

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