My goal this year is to do more of what I love and less of what I don’t.
The part of my job I love most is designing websites and working with clients. Unfortunately, that only amounts to about 30% of my work time. I spend a lot of time searching for files, searching for photos, reading and responding to emails, attending non-client meetings, and keeping abreast of current events and changes in my field.
This disparity between the time I spend on the parts of my business that I enjoy versus the parts I don’t often leaves me mentally and physically exhausted.
As we embark on 2014, I am actively seeking way to be more productive. I’m looking for methods to reduce the noise of stuff around me so I can focus on designing and have more time for the things that matter most — to me and to my clients.
If this sounds like you, read on…
Similar to what multitasking does to your brain, physical clutter overloads your senses, making you feel stressed, and impairs your ability to think creatively. Whether it be your closet or office desk, excess things in your surroundings can have a negative impact on your ability to focus and process information.
Clutter isn’t just physical
Files on your computer, notifications from your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and anything that goes “ping” in the night competes for your attention.
This creates a digital form of clutter that erodes your ability to focus and perform creative tasks.
Mark Hurst, author of Bit Literacy, a New York Times best seller on controlling the flow of information in the digital age, put it best when he said: Bits are a new material.
When you have to-do items constantly floating around in your head or you hear a ping or vibrate every few minutes from your phone, your brain doesn’t get a chance to fully enter creative flow or process experiences.
When your brain has too much on its plate, it splits its power up. The result? You become awful at:
- filtering information
- switching quickly between tasks
- keeping a strong working memory
The overconsumption of digital stuff has the same effect on your brain as physical clutter.
Everyone’s tolerance for clutter is different
Researchers have even found that certain people need a bit of a mess in their surroundings to feel inspired and get work done, stating that: A clean desk can be seen as a dormant area, an indication that no thought or work is being undertaken.
For instance, if you look at this photo of the home office of Steve Jobs, it’s not exactly the picture you’d expect of a zen-like visionary obsessed with less:
While clutter has been shown to negatively effect your performance, it is your perception of clutter that matters, not someone else’s.
If having a notebook, pen, or a photo of your significant other on your desk, doesn’t feel like clutter to you, then it’s not.
You should seek to create spaces that make you feel at ease.
Editing the noise: 4 ways to master clutter
There are millions of sources of information and things for you to consume so it’s important to figure out a way to control these streams so you have more time to do things that matter.
Here’s four things that have been working for me:
1. Apply constraints
One of the principals of good design is constraints. You can apply this same theory to create a system for mastering consumption.
For instance, set a limit for how many people you follow on Twitter, how many books you buy, or how many apps you own.
I set a limit of 200 people I follow on Twitter and I don’t buy any books until I’ve finished the current book I’m reading. I also don’t purchase or download any apps until I need them.
There will always be more information available than you can consume so set limits so you’re no longer simply trying to just get through it all but rather enjoying more of what you consume.
2. Use small storage spaces
Cutting down on your storage space can do wonders for limiting consumption. Try cutting your closet down to 10 hangers or force yourself to use a small bag when you travel.
Do you really need a walk-in closet or a rack for all your shoes? Try constraining your storage spaces and you’ll quickly identify what you really need.
3. Conduct a monthly review of your closet
Every month, review your closet looking for items you haven’t worn. If it’s summer and you have t-shirts, shorts, or shoes that you aren’t using, put them in a bag to sell on eBay or Craigslist or give them away.
Another option is to try and get rid of one item a week until you’ve cut your belongings down to the things you actually use.
4. Remove all files from your desktop daily
If you work on a computer, having a cluttered desktop every time you turn on your computer can give you a constant uneasy feeling.
At the end of each day, remove every file from your desktop. If you don’t have an immediate place to move the file, create one folder on your desktop and drop the stray files in there.
Clutter, whether physical or digital, is something you’ll always have to deal with but it can be controlled.
Finding ways to steer the streams of consumption in your favor will give you a sense of power and a freed mind, leaving room for you to create and experience life without constantly filling your cup to the top with someone else’s sugar.