Whether it’s paper, email, electronic files, binders or books – clutter in any form or shape is the result of a lack of system. And as you’ll know from our productivity training – a Productivity Ninja needs good systems in place, from your second brain and beyond. Decluttering might be a daunting thought, especially when you’re sure you’ll need that flyer from 6 months ago at some point in the future, but once you get started you’ll quickly realize how liberating it feels to see the tabletop of your office desk again. Now, where to begin?
What Would Life Be Without a Framework?
As you’ll know from our Time Management Workshops, we love a good framework to get you started. Decluttering expert, Peter Walsh, uses the Vision – Function – Zones – Limits approach. Here’s how it works:
Vision: Think about how you want the space to feel. Write out some of the keywords that come to mind, for example: creativity, productivity, clean, calm, etc.
Function: Now you need to get started and arrange the room according to your vision. Think about the position of your desk, whether you should put up project plans around it, is there appropriate storage, etc.
Zones: This is where you consider how to use specific areas for different purposed. Just like we used to have different zones in school which were dedicated to arts & crafts, math and science – think about your day to day office tasks and create areas for you. If your office has a breakout area, why not take some of your more brainstorming/creative oriented tasks there? Or you could find a quiet corner for your weekly review. Also make sure to encourage movement and put some files or items far enough away, so you need to get up and away from your desk.
Limits: Consider your boundaries. Instead of letting your paper tray overflow, make sure you set up rules which mean as soon as it’s reached the top frame, it’s time to process and file. Or use only one notebook, and only two colors of post-it notes. You could also go cold-turkey and not use post-it notes, but that can be very frightening. Another limit could be to find visual clues to let other people in the office know you shouldn’t be disturbed.
Places to Declutter
Now that you have a framework ready to use, it’s time to explore the different areas in your life to declutter.
We’ve all been guilty of hoarding old paperwork, piling up reading material to look over later and squirreling away documents in desk drawers ‘just in case’ we might need them again. Now is the time to channel Marie Kondo and decide what you absolutely need to keep, and which items it is time to let go of. Are you really going to read that article you’ve been hanging onto since last September? Do you really need to keep that pile of invoices from 2012? Get the shredder going, fill up your recycling bin and ditch all those chewed-up old pens. Once you have a clear space in which to work, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to focus on what is really important, without constantly getting side-tracked.
One of the things that seems to get clogged up with rubbish faster than almost anything else, is our email inbox. No sooner have we waded through the deluge that somehow appears to greet us every morning than there is another tidal wave of unread messages to deal with. It can be utterly overwhelming but rather than continually drowning in emails, try setting aside some time to get your inbox to zero – our Email Training can help here. Practicing good Email Etiquette is another way to help stem the flood for everyone; set a good example for others and be the change you want to see in the (online) world! If you are able to, switching to Chat apps such as Slack or HipChat can reduce the reliance on email among your team and get communication flowing more freely.
This is where a good Productivity Ninja brings their ruthlessness to the fore! Take a good, hard look at your diary and ask yourself whether you really, really need to be in all of those meetings. Are they adding value to your day? Is the purpose clear, and do you get something useful out of it? If you are the chair of any meetings, it might be a good opportunity to polish up your Meeting Skills and make sure you are running effective, productive sessions yourself.
Your To-Do List
Finally, take your ruthlessness to your to-do list. Are there any items on the list that you keep putting off, rescheduling and de-prioritising? Be brutally honest with yourself and ask whether they really need to be done, or done now. If it isn’t important enough to be done, delete it. If it’s a good idea whose time has not yet come, put it in your Ideas Park so you can go back to it another time – that way, it’s not cluttering up your view of what you actually need to focus on, but it’s not lost altogether. If it really does need doing, take a deep breath and get on with it – right now!
Life Outside of Work
Now that your workplace is completely decluttered, you might as well keep the momentum going and take your newly found declutter skills home. Our Productivity Ninja, Grace Marshall, did exactly that and shared her experience with us in a blog post.
It’s over to you! What’s your first step to get your work and life decluttered? Share your progress with us in the comments below or on social media. Keep us in the loop through tagging @thinkproductive or using #ProductivityNinja
By Nicola Knight & Hannah Urbanek
Nicola has attended our Time Management Training and has done a wonderful job in applying her newly found Productivity Ninja skills in her work and life. She shared some of her learning in an interview on our blog – you can read it here.
Hannah is Think Productive’s Hannah is Think Productive’s Head of Marketing and the voice behind our social media and editorial content. You can connect with Hannah directly here or on LinkedIn.
This post was originally published in January 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.