Don't Let Clutter Steal Your Time

by dsnider 26. November 2013 15:11

A life lived in chaos is an impossibility… —Madeleine L’Engle


One of the biggest avoidable time-wasters in virtually everyone’s life is clutter. Time spent worrying about where things are, searching for what you need, redoing something that got crunched beyond repair by whatever was on top of it, or duplicating work because you keep things in more than one format is all time you could have spent doing something more productive or more fun.

Clutter would be bad enough if all it did was waste your time. But it also shreds your peace of mind and creates significant lost opportunity cost.  It’s entirely counter-productive if balance is what you're trying to achieve.

Here are some tips for minimizing clutter:

  • Get the paper off your desk and out of your life unless you really need it for what you’re doing right now. If you’ll need it later, put a date on it and put it in a tickler file. This includes all materials you will need for meetings on future days – put them in the tickler file so they come up on the day you need to read them in preparation for the meeting or, if that’s not necessary, on the day of the meeting
  • Don’t keep things that don’t work – throw away or replace pens that have run out of ink, clocks with no batteries, mangled paper clips, empty containers, and all the other garbage cluttering up your desk drawers
  • Cancel subscriptions and notifications (paper and electronic) you don’t need or use.  If you’re not reading it, replying to it, or otherwise using it, you won’t miss it
  • Store as little paper as possible in your personal files (or piles, if you must, but labeled files are better – and they’re essential if you work with other people and are storing what you should be). If you’d never think to look in a file for that interesting article, don’t bother keeping it there, no matter how useful you’re sure it could be
  • Go through your (now minimal) paper files every three-four months and throw out or file in a more appropriate place every single thing you haven’t looked at since the last time you went through the files. Keep shared files in shared file cabinets; get over needing to keep your own stored copies of things kept elsewhere
  • Apply the previous two rules to electronic files and file storage, too
  • After you leave a meeting, take the time to figure out what follow-up is needed and either do it on the spot or list it and put the list in the tickler file for the right date. This will reduce backlog, ease the strain on your memory, and make you more reliable
  • Take the time at the end of every day (yes, once you get in this routine, there’s plenty of time for this) to think about what your priorities are for the next day. Arrange the stuff on your desk accordingly; put everything that doesn't relate to tomorrow's priorities somewhere more appropriate (your tickler file, the wastebasket, your briefcase for train reading, a file cabinet). Do the same at the end of every week to clarify your priorities for the next week and month

Minimizing clutter isn’t hard, but it requires conscious effort and commitment. It can look like yet another to-do list item, and so it is, but it’s one that produces freedom, flexibility, effectiveness, balance, a long-term (as well as a short-term) view, and a focus on what matters most. Getting clutter out of your way is a to-do list item well worth the effort.

Debra Snider is an author, speaker, no-longer-practicing lawyer, former senior executive, blackjack player, and mother of two grown children. Her published works include two nonfiction business books, one specifically for lawyers, and the novel A MERGER OF EQUALS, which readers have called “one of the most enlightening and true works of fiction about corporate life and love” and “virtually impossible to put down.”  A Chicagoan until 2005, Debra now lives in Nevada.  Click here for more info on her biography, books, and appearances.


Debra Snider | Suit Yourself

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