clutterImagine you have defined 2 or 3 quarterly goals and set out a plan for how you’re going to achieve these over a 12 week period (the 12WY or 12 week year). As you go into your 12WY, you spend time doing research instead of executing, your habit of hoarding builds up a mess and you spend time refining it, you may even spend time on unnecessary things due to obsessive tendencies; all of a sudden the 12 weeks is up and you realise a large proportion of time was wasted. This post will show you how to get back your focus and time, by de-cluttering your life and embracing a bit of minimalism.

Identify what’s taking up your energy and time

Clutter is not just physical things; it’s anything that takes your time and focus away from what you want to do. There are a number of challenges I mentioned in the introduction to this post:

  • Hoarding
  • Over-researching instead of taking action
  • Obsessive tendencies

These three behaviours can take up a large amount of time each day and if any of them affect you, all you need to do is a simple calculation to demonstrate how much time they are taking away each week. Then think about over 12 weeks, how much time are they taking away from working on what you really wanted to work on? Extrapolate that out a few years and you’ll probably have a very scary figure.

Apply a lean lens – Would your customers (family, friends, employer and yourself) pay for the time spent on these activities? Would you pay someone else to spend time on these activities?

Hoarding

For example, I always end up building up a large amount of paper files – yes even in the digital age where many people are ‘paperless’. After I’ve built up these papers, it starts to weigh on me as un-finished business and I spend time going through them with the aim of processing and throwing away each paper. Each time I look at a paper, I have to decide whether to keep or throw and end up keeping at least ½ to ¾ of the papers. Then need to go through them again on another day. This process eats up time that could be much better used elsewhere. This is the same problem as hoarding physical possessions.

How would this be different if I had embraced a minimalist luxury lifestyle (MLL)? Instead of printing a piece of paper and putting it in a folder for later, I could have just left work and read it the next day on the screen. Just thinking ‘If I print this paper, it’s going to cost me time and energy to follow it up later and I definitely don’t want to be reading and re-reading that tomorrow and the next week’. Notice this is the same concept as processing your emails once (Touch It Once) and not leaving them in your inbox. Similarly, getting an extra physical possession that you don’t use will add up to much wasted effort carrying it with you over time.

Over-researching

Researching every possible angle before taking action on something can prevent you from taking action at all. E.g. you want to lose weight and you know you need to exercise to do that, however instead of going to the gym, you begin researching. You research everything from how long to exercise, to what types of exercise are best, to what time of the day is best for exercise. This research takes days or even weeks. With the abundance of information we have at our fingertips today, the amount of material to get through could consume you; preventing you from ever setting foot in a gym.

Obsessive tendencies

Checking that the stove is off and the door is locked before you leave the house is responsible. Checking it multiple times and then re-checking it multiple times is not. You may rationalise it however once you finish you think about how much extra time that took. Then extrapolate that per week, per month and over a year. How much time and energy will it take away from what you really want to do?

Hoarding – Prevention through triage

Prevention is better than a cure in this case as preventing clutter from piling up will save energy and time, allowing you to align these precious resources to your most important goals. How do you prevent clutter? By setting up a simple triage process:

  1. Do I really need to print this paper to read on the train? Think of the time it will take to read and re-read later and how long before I end up throwing it out? Still need to print it, or can I just read it later and probably won’t end up reading it at all?
  2. Do I need to keep these digital files? If it’s readily available elsewhere, delete it because keeping it will eat up admin time later on. If you can store it on the cloud, do that because you won’t need to then manage the files on hard drives, make backups, etc. I haven’t used cloud storage however think it has great potential to alleviate admin time and reduce risk of hard drive failure for most of your digital files. The only ones you keep on your physical hard drive should be backup of the essential (financial, etc.) records.
  3. Do I really need to keep that extra pen, whiteboard marker, chest of drawers or other physical object? If you take it in, then you’ll need to store it, clean it, move it to your next house. Do I know this object to be useful and therefore will repay this effort?
  4. Is this an essential? If not, YAGNI – You Aint Gonna Need It!

We can’t prevent all clutter, so this also requires a cure – the clutter cleansing challenge could be a fun method.

The clutter cleansing challenge was invented by me just now:

  1. Throw away one piece of clutter each day for a whole month
  2. Track your progress by placing a mark on a wall or desk calendar each day you do this
  3. If you have a mark on every day on the calendar at the end of the month you’ve passed the challenge and combined with prevention above, you probably have a lot less clutter already.

Over-researching – Create sense of urgency with 12WY

Over-researching can waste time. However not doing any research can get you into a lot of trouble and also waste even more time. So to create a good balance, time-box your researching activities. Set 2 or 3 quarterly goals, and then plan how you will achieve them over a 12 week period. Part of this plan might include 1 day of research on each goal. After that day, you must start execution. Remember the Pareto principle – You’ll get 80% of your results from 20% of the effort. The rest will be learned much quicker through experimentation, feedback and continuous improvement, rather than further researching.

There’s also the concept of Safe to Fail. We learn much quicker and the memory stays for longer, when we learn something by experimenting. I.e. try something and see if it works, then examine what happened and adapt. Safe to fail is how we teach kids – you know something is not going to work but you let them try it anyway and then they learn the lesson. What does this have to do with over-researching? Well if you keep this concept in mind it will help you realise the benefits of execution and spend a measured amount of time on researching, then get into the execution.

Obsessive tendencies – Check it Once and the mind concurs all

The CIO principle will help here. That’s Check-It-Once! If you’ve checked that the stove is off once, that’s enough. Checking it a second and third time will give you a very tiny, negligible chance that you made a mistake and it is actually on. Apply some logic and think there’s no possible way it could be on the second time you check if it was off the first time.

This can be hard to overcome but just know that the mind can concur all. There is a lot of evidence out there that our brains can continue to learn, make connections and change throughout our lives. It takes longer when we get older but it can always be done, even if you’re 120.

Sleep

All of these ideas are much easier to implement when you have good sleep. If this is a problem for you, I highly recommend reading the evening ritual challenge series of posts at AE. Once you implement this, you’ll be able to get consistent good sleep and it will improve your focus the next day.

How are you de-cluttering your life?

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