Franklin Covey planner did not have sufficient magical powers to keep my life on track in spite of my carefully delineated "personal mission statement" and list of values. My big rocks were getting buried by the small rocks, and everything in my daily task list was marked with arrows (move to tomorrow).
It was obvious a mere resolution wasn't going to be enough to get a handle on my life. I needed help. So when the opportunity presented itself, I enrolled in a "Career Track" seminar on organizing. Organizing being directly related to my job, I was allowed to expense the cost, and I actually did learn one or two useful skills to help me bring order to my messed up world. Like...
* If possible, never handle a piece of paper more than once
* Use a tickler file
* Separate clutter into three piles (keep, give away, throw away)
* When processing your inbox, if you can do it now, do it now
* Store as many documents as possible electronically
So I came home and employed my new-found skills to tackle the clutter in my house, starting with my office/guest room. With great zeal and energy I gathered up all the papers and junk on the desk, in the drawers, in file folders-- everything. And I made three piles-- well, two piles and a trash can. Several hours later, exhausted, I found myself sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by papers and mementos that I had spent the entire day reminiscing over instead of finding places for. Time to fix dinner -- pick up the piles and put them in a box. Declutter session is over.
The problem with decluttering is the will to part with things-- or, more to the point, the lack thereof. I have spent the last two years moving around my piles of junk -- mostly storing them in a box in the closet. After all, you never know what you might need again some time. (I would have loved to refer to that Career Track workbook about organizing...but I recently threw it away.)
This weekend I happened upon a book called THE POWER OF LESS: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential, by Leo Babauta. Amazon had a Kindle version for $3, so I thought... what the heck? I'll buy it. Hopefully there's at least three dollars worth of good advice in it that maybe I haven't heard before. I'm usually a sucker for self-improvement books, and the desire to simplify my life has been running like an undercurrent in my mind for a long time. Two days and 170 pages later, I was armed with some new ideas and ready to renew my quest for simplicity.
The book discusses three main themes: (1) setting limitations, (2) choosing the essential, and (3) focusing. All seemingly common-sense intuitive concepts, right? But Babauta takes the concepts a step farther and actually gives great tips on the how to. He tackles everything from managing your e-mail to setting goals. He gives advice on forming habits, managing commitments, and generally getting rid of clutter.
While I learned a few new things (at least three dollar's worth), I was surprised to discover that I am already doing some of the things he recommends. One of those is single-tasking. As I get older, I've noticed an increasing difficulty for multi-tasking. Perhaps I was better at this when I was younger, but these days I do too much dinner-burning, and appointment forgetting when I try to multitask. I find single-tasking a much more efficient way to get things done -- at home, and at the office. Granted, not everyone is in a position where they can comfortably single-task -- mothers of small children come to mind. But the principles this book promotes, if faithfully attempted, promise to help reduce the stress and anxiety by paring down what you do to the essential tasks--leaving less to multi-task, if you must do it.
But, getting back to the theme of a simpler life, these two things seem to be my recurring trouble spots, which The Power of Less addresses in simple easy ways:
- Minimize the stuff. How do I choose what to keep and what to get rid of? First I have to decide what my values are - what really matters. Until I answer that question, I won't be able to let loose of anything! What do I love? What's important to me? Those are the essential things. The rest can be thrown out or given away.
- Manage the time. How do I get the most out of the hours I have in the day? In keeping with the "simple" theme, the answer is the same -- decide what tasks are essential and eliminate the rest. How? By answering the same questions as before: What do I love? What's important to me? What activities will have the biggest or most long-term impact?
Getting a little encouragement from sources like The Power of Less is always invigorating. Yesterday I decluttered my kitchen counter and set some rules about incoming mail. Then I decluttered my home desk area, set up a more efficient file system for bills and receipts and got my scanner working again so I can save the paperwork I want to keep to PDF files. Not only that, but Mark and I started on the garage decluttering project we've been talking about for a while.
Albert Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I'm convinced he was right about that. The simpler we can make our life, the more efficient it will be, the happier we will be, and the more focus we will place on the important things.
In all, it was a very productive long weekend and a jump-start to my quest for a simpler life. Who knows how long I can stick with it...but that's tomorrow. I'm not going to worry about that!
Leo Babuta has a blog called Zenhabits that you may find of value. I've added the link to my sidebar.