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How to Become Clutter-Free for Greater Happiness and Productivity

How to Become Clutter-Free for Greater Happiness and Productivity

    If an alien nation were to look down on Earth at this moment in time they really would think us a dumb race. They might say something like:

    “They buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like.”

    But even if it’s not about impressing others, most of us have too much stuff and we know that the accumulation of goods won’t make us happier — yet we continue to consume. The aliens would also notice how busy the inhabitants of this planet are and how they work incessantly a lot of the time doing work that doesn’t need to be done. And if they asked us we would acknowledge that we work too much, knowing that it can lead to a high percentage of us feeling stress or anxiety (1.5 million people in the U.S. alone having heart attacks each year). But we continue to work longer hours. We would also tell them that we know simplicity can lead to greater happiness and wellness, yet we are prone to staring blindly at facts and doing nothing about them.

    So just in case some alien race is watching, don’t you think we should simplify our lives? Maybe we could also benefit from the other advantages. By making a commitment now to reduce, eliminate, and set yourself free this year, you will feel the liberation and the lightness as you rid your life of the physical and mental baggage that has being weighing you down. Clutter is stagnant energy and by removing it from your life you will free up time and space for the more important things in life.

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    How to Get Started

    Step by step and room by room, you can start to eliminate the unnecessary in your life. The books you have read but hold onto, the clothes that are too small but sit in your cupboard. The stuff that that lies on your kitchen table or clutters up your living room. Wouldn’t it be nice to be rid of it?

    Organizational expert Barbara Hemphill calls clutter “postponed decisions”. So start making some decisions. Get bags or boxes — one for recycling, one for the charity shop, one for the trash and one for the yet to be decided.

    Start with one area of your house or office, choose a drawer, a counter space or shelf. Don’t try to do it altogether or you may get discouraged and leave your house looking worse than before. If you have a lot to do, try setting yourself a time deadline rather than a space deadline. if you can commit to de-cluttering for an hour or two, you will be satisfied with what you have achieved if you stuck with it for that time period.

    For each object you pick up ask yourself the following questions:

    • “Do I need this?”
    • “Have I used in in the past 6 months?” (12 months for seasonal clothes or sporting equipment)
    • “Would it help someone else more than me?”
    • “Can I easily get it again if I dispose of it?”

    These questions should help you make a decision. If you end up with a box of things that you can’t decide what to do with or you are not ready to dispose of, keep them in this box in storage. After six months, go back to the box — and if you haven’t used anything from the box in that time you can pass them on to someone who may be able to use them.

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    Once you have eliminated all that is unnecessary, the next step is to make sure all that is left is organized and accessible when you need to get at it.

    Organizing the Rest

    The correct storage is important for your home or office; you need to decide where everything should go and whether it is necessary to get more storage solutions to accommodate your possessions. If possible, try to use existing solutions, as I find the more storage I have the more I will fill.

    Regardless of how few papers you need to keep, you will need a filing system. I don’t have enough papers at home to merit a filing cabinet, so I use a filing box. It holds about 40 hanging folders, enough to keep all my home paperwork — items such as birth certificates, contracts and certificates are all filed away neatly. Inside each hanging folder I have a manila folder which has been labelled clearly with a labeller. This means that when I go to look for a folder I can clearly see it and don’t waste any time searching.

    Once you have a place for everything and everything in its place, the way to keep it organized is to commit to cleaning as you go…and try to get everyone who lives in your house on board.

    “If everyone swept in front of their own door, the world would be a much cleaner place” – Mother Theresa

    De-cluttering the Mind

    To de-clutter the mind is to empty it of all the unnecessary thoughts that prevent you from living a happy, calm and stress-free life. The mind can be a busy place as it stores our commitments, responsibilities, hopes, dreams and plans along with the constant input that comes its way as we pass through our day.

    A mind should not be a place of clutter, but a place of calm and peace. Below are a number of ways that can help you to clear your mind and free it from the constant noise and clutter that resides there.

    1. Write it all down
    Get out a piece of paper and write down everything you need to do, from organizing a children’s party to starting a new project at work. Write down your chores, your duties and your responsibilities. Write down your plans for articles, books and businesses. This act will help to clear the mind and keep you from using it as a reminder system.

    2. Get Organized
    Just like clearing the physical clutter is not enough to complete the task, clearing the mind also needs an organisation phase to help completely free your mind from the responsibility of remembering. Once you have it all written down, you must plan and schedule all that needs to be done. Having a system to organize your tasks and projects can help to eliminate stress and induce a sense of peace and calm

    3. Focus on the essential
    If you identify the most important things in your life, such as your main goals and intentions, it will make it easier for you to identify the things that are not important — the things that clog your mind and clutter your space. Once you have identified and start to focus on the essential, the rest will fade into insignificance.

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    4. Reduce information consumption
    Where possible, reduce the amount of time you spend watching television, listening to radio and reading newspapers. Too much negative news can have a negative effect on your mind. Television is not as relaxing as people think; your mind is very active while doing it and it will remain active for a long time after watching. In particular, watching television reduces the quality of your sleep if you watch it before bedtime.

    5. Journal
    Journaling can help to quieten the mind. By writing down all your thoughts, worries, and dreams you take some of the pressure away from the mind. A lot of people journal before sleeping as this can free up their minds from these worries and stresses, allowing for a more peaceful sleep.

    4. Spend time in nature
    Nature can be a great detox for both body and mind. A fresh breath can clear out stagnant or negative energy held in the body, and walking in nature has grounding and purifying effects. Activity outdoors can also be a great way to be mindful shifting your thoughts from your worries to the present moment.

    5. Meditate
    Meditation, just like mindfulness, can help to relax the constant chatter of the mind. Stress and worry are caused by focusing too much attention on future negative outcomes. The more we can focus our mind on the present moment the happier and more peaceful we will become.

    If you follow these steps to de-clutter your physical and mental space, you will find greater peace and happiness. What you will also achieve is the ability to focus more intently on the essential and become more efficient and productive with both your time and space.

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    Oh, and you’ll likely impress the aliens a bit too.

    (Photo credit: Bad Day at Work via Shutterstock)

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    Ciara Conlon

    Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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    Last Updated on April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

    S.M.A.R.T.

    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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