I love this quote from Oprah’s organizing “guru”, author Peter Walsh. Working with clients in their business and home offices and helping them with time management issues, we often come across all kinds of clutter – not necessarily paper, office supplies, or other physical stuff. It’s time clutter – all of those extra commitments that fill up our days and the tasks we take on that make our to-do lists seem never-ending. It’s emotional clutter – the attitudes, thoughts and feelings that have accompanied our life’s journey that we can’t seem to shake.
Sometimes it’s human clutter – those people who reinforce every negative feeling we have about ourselves, who make us feel “less than” or encourage us to continue on a path that we know isn’t the best choice for us. I call them “joy suckers”, because they tend to be the folks who suck every ounce of joy from our lives whenever we have contact with them.
We all deal with one or another of these things in our lives. And sometimes letting go of the physical clutter in our spaces helps us to shed clutter of other kinds. Walsh wrote a fascinating article for the Boston Globe last April about the correlation he often saw between excess clutter and excess weight. (Peter Walsh article)
When it comes to time clutter in particular, it’s helpful to define it in a similar way to physical or paper clutter. When I work with my clients on time management, one of the first things we do is to implement what I call my ORDER™ system. An overloaded calendar and to-do list is often a symptom of allowing commitments and tasks to pile up just like paper piles on our desks, or clutter piles in our closets, kitchens, basements and garages.
The ORDER™ system for organizing paper and physical items works as follows:
- ORGANIZE: Sort like things with like things – put similar things together.
- REDUCE: Get rid of anything that isn’t useful or beautiful and doesn’t fit your life the way you live it today.
- DESIGNATE: Designate a home where the items you keep will live.
- ENCLOSE: Decide what container those items will live in.
- RE-VISIT: Regularly go back and evaluate your spaces and systems so that you can remain clutter-free.
When it comes to time management, viewing our commitments and tasks the way we view physical clutter is crucial to becoming more productive and lowering stress. In order to get a handle on our schedule, the ORDER™ system provides a good framework for establishing priorities and deciding what works in our life and what doesn’t.
- ORGANIZE: For time and tasks, this first step is the most important. Stephen Covey calls it establishing what our “big rocks” are. (For a review of this popular story, click here.) Figure out what the most important commitments and tasks are in your life. Sort out the most important, next most important, then lesser priorities. Make a list of these priorities with the biggest, most significant ones at the top.
- REDUCE: Eliminate any commitments and tasks that don’t fit your life the way you want to be living it now, today. Just because you’ve always done it doesn’t mean you need to continue to do it. If your priorities have changed, so should your schedule to reflect them. And just because you’ve always been the one to do it doesn’t mean you should be doing it in perpetuity – if someone else can handle it equally well or better (or maybe just get it done, because done is always better than perfect) – hand it over!
- DESIGNATE: Look at your calendar and decide where those top priorities – the BIG ROCKS – should live on a regular basis. Accept the fact that anything that doesn’t have a specific time scheduled into your calendar – whether it’s an appointment or a task – will not happen.
- ENCLOSE: Decide how long each commitment or task will take. Be realistic – in your heart of hearts, you know that certain things will often take longer than you think they will (or want them to). Allow overflow – space in between – breathing room – for things that might take a little longer. In the long run, you’ll be on time, more productive, and less stressed.
- RE-VISIT: Check in with your calendar and tasks on a regular basis. Reduce what’s no longer relevant, re-establish your priorities, make sure that the big rocks are being taken care of. Work, family, health – all deserve time and need to be regularly re-evaluated.
If there is any kind of clutter – stuff, paper, time, emotional or human – standing in the way of how you’d like to be living your life, consider letting it go. You will never miss it, and the rewards will be significant!