Declutter, declutter, declutter!

This is part one in the series How to double your personal productivity.

One simple way to get an increased sense of well-being is to declutter your life. What declutter means is just to remove all those things that you don’t really need.

Since clutter and procrastination is closely tied together I’ve started using the Make a small deal with yourself-technique:

Promise yourself that you’ll work on something for just 5 minutes. After those 5 minutes you can do something else if you want to. But make a note on your schedule when you will come back to the task and work another 5 minutes with it. Not matter how unpleasant a task may be, you can often talk yourself into working 5 minutes on it.

And the thing is, you often don’t have to schedule another 5 minutes that day. Decluttering often takes just 5-15 minutes. And when you have done your first 5 minutes you’ll most likely feel that you should just get it all done. The important thing is to get going. Often it starts to feel good going through all that old junk and cleaning it out. If not, then break it down into 5 minute parts.

If there is a lot of clutter everywhere don’t get overwhelmed and fall into procrastination-mode. Do 5 minutes in one room a day. Or start by doing one small task a day. Declutter your old receipts or your old magazines. Do it every day and pretty soon it’s all decluttered.

I’ve found it helpful to put all the stuff you want to get rid of on the floor in the middle of the room. I put it all in piles and start going through it. The messiness of it all makes it easier. You just want to get rid of that annoying pile.

Get a couple of boxes or bags. Put the things you want to save in one of them, the stuff you want to sell/give in another and get a trashcan for the junk.

Use your trashcan liberally. If you’re unsure if you should throw something away, think about how much you have used it in the past. Then think about how much use you’ll have from it in the future. Then you’ll probably want to throw it away.

Declutter your workspace

I find it very satisfying to remove old coffee-cups from my desk, sort my stuff and throw out what I don’t need. A decluttered and ordered workspace brings clarity and order to the mind. Avoid putting post-its all over your screen and desk. Use a program that collects all those thoughts and reminders. I use My Life Organized.

Using 5 minutes a day to keep your workspace clutterfree not only makes you happier and more efficient. According to a series of interviews that Brian Tracy cites 50 out of 52 managers would not promote a person with a messy desk. Even if the person was doing a good job. They couldn’t trust a position of responsibility to someone who couldn’t keep himself organized. Take a look at you workspace and see what it might reflect about you as a person.

You might want to look into the Getting Things Done-system (often refered to as GTD). It will keep you better organized and reduce the clutter in both your physical workspace and your inbox. The book you want to get is called Getting Things Done and is written by David Allen.

Declutter your home

One way to have a more clutterfree home is to bring less stuff into the house. If you buy a lot of things on impulse and then just use it one time you might want to reconsider that habit. Pause and think before you put something in your shopping-cart.

Don’t bring junk-mail into your home. I’ve started to move that kind of mail directly from the mailbox to the nearest garbage can.

Give away all the stuff you don’t need. Or to take a couple of minutes to check Ebay. Whatever things you’ve collected throughout the years could actually be something people are willing to pay a surprising amount of money for. Got old furniture no one uses? Put an ad in the paper for it.

Take 5 minutes to do the dishes, take 5 minutes to fold the laundry and put it where it’s supposed to be. Don’t let these things pile up. Getting those small tasks done will bring you a sense of relief.

Use boxes to store magazines, toys and other random things that otherwise just lies around. If you have a system with written or mental labels then it will be easier to keep things organized and in their right place.

Declutter your computer and online habits

Declutter your RSS-feed. Just keep the ones that really gives you value. Remove the rest.

Declutter your bookmarks. Go through it and remove bookmarks you never use. Organize the rest into categories. It will make it a lot easier to find what you are looking for.

Remove bookmarks that you click impulsively but really doesn’t provide much value. These can be real time-hogs and easily break your concentration countless times each day.

Shut of your Instant Messengers to avoid interruptions.

Don’t put of answering emails for days or you might forget them. Clean out the ones you don’t need.

Defragment your computer, remove the programs you never use, use a program to remove spyware. And clean up your desktop, delete what you don’t need and organize what you need in folders.

Declutter your life

TiVO your favourite TV-shows and fast-forward through the commercials. Limit the number of shows you watch and only watch the ones you’ve decided on in advance. Cancel subscriptions of magazines that you never get around to reading anyway.

Always carry a pen and paper. Write down every important thought. Getting it out of your head not only frees your mind to think about more important things. It also reassures you that none of those excellent ideas and must-dos are forgotten.

Time is one of your most valuable resources. Don’t do something or keep something just out of old habit. What value does this thing or habit hold for you today? What would the impact in the future be if you did it/kept it? If the habit or thing doesn’t hold much value or won’t have an important effect on your future then consider removing it from your life. And fill that space and time in your life with something better.

Learn to say no. If you constantly say yes you’ll be out of spare time before you know it. Much of your time will be spent doing things for others that you may not really want to do. And stress and unhappiness will ensue. Think about a suggestion and before you say yes ask yourself; do I really want to do this? What is the value in doing this? Do I really have the time to do it? Sometimes you have to do it anyway, but not always. You might want to be kind and helpful to people. But being overstressed and eventually burning out will not help you or anyone else.

Ask for help. See what advice your friends and co-workers have to give. If you know or meet someone who keeps their workspace, home or other part of their life clutterfree ask how they do it. Try their advice and see if it works for you too.

Making decluttering a, for the most of the time, small but significant habit doesn’t just increase your productivity.

A couple of minutes a day let’s you rediscover those pieces of interesting stuff you forgot in the piles of junk. It can make you money. It allows you experience the joy of giving and others the joy of receiving. It helps you shed layers of confusion.

And as your outer world influences your inner world your mind becomes calm and clear.

Check back tomorrow for the next part on How to double your personal productivity.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • >Don´t bring junk-mail into your home. I´ve started to move that kind of mail directly from the mailbox to the nearest garbage can.

    I do this for all junk mail except anything that might help an identity thief. That, sadly, still has to come upstairs for a date with the shredder. Too bad we can’t have a CIA-style burn bag at the door for this stuff.

  • Thank you for sharing and for pointing out that maybe not all junk-mail should go into the garbage can immediately.

  • cautious

    I’ve seen many times the advice to throw junkmail out immediately as you sort the mail right from your mailbox, from mailbox to trashcan. I’m always worried that I’m going to throw something that looked like junk, but was important. So I always open it quickly, check and then throw in the recycle bin. Good thing, I did this, because recently I thought something was for sure junkmail, but when I opened it is was from a previous employer sent to a mass of previous employees about a id theft incident, so good thing I opened that piece of mail.

  • Sandra

    My favourite thing to do with junk mail is to insert it in the return envelope of another item of junk mail, ie the pizza promotion in the american express application envelope. Oh course I always remove the bits that have my name on. Hopefully the companies sending the junk mail get enough of back, they may stop.

  • Lynn

    Please, don’t toss reuseable clothing, shoes, outerwear, household items etc. I collect clothing for women’s shelters & the homeless. To receive gently used items is a godsend to them. Call a local church or shelter to inquire about dropping off donations. Or start a collection at your own church. Please, please consider those less fortunate. Thank you.

  • Many people say that one of their favorite things to do when stressed out is to clean! Hard to imagine, right? Well, it is true. Cleaning gives order and purpose to your life, even if its only in smaller chunks at a time.

    It also provides a very good Feng Shui mentality and promotes a positive chi~

    • Fee

      Genevieve, I truly agree with everything that you say about Feng Shui. I know that when I have decluttered and put away items that were lying about my room, I seem to sleep better!!
      May I say how much I like your own website – You have very practical ideas and I like your blog.
      I have had a little trouble in ordering your book, and I am waiting for you to get back to me about that.

  • Joe

    I find taking everything OUT of a room, and only putting back what you really want is a great way of clearing out…


  • Love the angle you have taken. It’s a great lesson on learning how to take greater control over how you spend your time. There are certainly a lot of time wasting activities to watch out for and eliminate from our life, if we do so choose to.