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How to Declutter Your Workspace

How to Declutter Your Workspace

    I’ve just had an opportunity to declutter my workspace, having spent half of the day swapping my home office and my son’s room around. The swap wasn’t an excuse to declutter (rather, to make better use of the utter lack of telephone outlets in our house) but I take every chance I get; we all know how clutter can creep up and before you know it you can’t turn around in your chair without knocking something over.

    I’m a musician and it has always been hard to keep my office space uncluttered; at a minimum I need a decent set of speakers, monitoring headphones, a keyboard, a mixer and digital audio input and an array of instruments in my working space to compose and create. That’s in addition to all the tools I need for the other half of my work life, which is writing. Each time I declutter I have to try and strike a balance between accessibility and lack of clutter, and each time I optimize enough to find a setup that works a little better.

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    I spend most days of the week in this room, usually way more than the recommended eight hours of work a day. So having a good workspace is important; ergonomic equipment is only one half of the equation – the physical half. The other half is mental, and for me, the best way to keep a positive attitude throughout the day is to have a clean, decluttered working area and a fair bit of natural light coming into the room.

    Here’s what I did. Bear in mind you don’t have to go to this extreme end of the spectrum, but I was clearing out the room anyway so there was no harm in doing it properly!

    1. Remove everything from the room

    If you’re decluttering the same way I have, this means removing everything, including the assorted junk hidden in your cupboard (built-in wardrobe if your home office was really meant to be a bedroom!). Yes, I know it’s in there. You can’t fool everyone.

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    Now that the room is empty, I suggest taking the opportunity to vacuum, clean the walls, and do anything else you need to do to get the room in its best condition. You don’t empty the whole room often and this may be your last chance for a few more months, or even years if you don’t move regularly. The cleaning stage is all a part of decluttering, really, and fortunately you’ve got unhindered access to every cranny of the room.

    2. View all items as equals

    The first thing you do when you examine the contents of a room for decluttering is discount your ability to declutter certain things. You look at the furniture of the room, for instance, and don’t even consider whether you need it in there or not; your mind automatically bypasses those things and looks at the assorted pile of junk.

    It is quite possible that the bookshelf or a part of your desk is actually clutter you don’t need. I have one of those corner desks similar to this (though way less ugly!). By viewing all my items as potential targets of the decluttering machine, I realized I could gain significant space in the room as well as provide less surface area for clutter creep by removing the rounded pane in the middle that connects the two main desk surfaces.

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    3. Choose necessities

    The next temptation is to fill the room with things you think you might need to have on hand, but in reality only use once a week or once a month. The key to a successful decluttering is to choose the absolute necessities for your workspace, and only bring those items back into the office. At this point the only things I have on my desk are my computer, keyboard, mouse, speakers and a notebook (as in the kind with paper inside) and pen.

    I’m trialling a system with my music equipment that will require me to bring them out of storage only when I need to use them. The main difficulty with this system in the past has been the time it costs to plug everything in and set it up, but I’ve found a solution that’ll only cost about a minute in set up time; I think I can live with that!

    4. Place items consciously

    Once you have made a conscious decision about what gets to come back in before you bring everything back in, you can go about finding a place for each item. Think carefully about where you’re going to put it in order to maximize the amount of room you have, in terms of both floor space and desk space. As I mentioned, removing one component of my desk allowed me to increase my floor space drastically which reduces the sense of clutter and claustrophobia. It has already made the office a much more productive and positive place to work.

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    Don’t just chuck everything you’re left with back in the way it came out. Decluttering is pointless unless you put some thought into every step and really optimize all aspects of your workspace. In short, decluttering isn’t just about throwing things away.

    5. Make a commitment to regular decluttering

    Many people would tell you that you should now make a general and obtuse commitment to keep your workspace decluttered, but we all know how clutter works. It creeps up slowly and you have to set aside a specific time at a regular interval to fight it off and keep it at bay. Whether you find five minutes at the end of each day or an hour once a week works best for you, don’t make the mistake of telling yourself you’ll just magically keep the workspace uncluttered with your newfound clean-freak attitude. You won’t. Just make a commitment to declutter again in the future at regular intervals.

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    Last Updated on March 21, 2019

    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

    Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

    You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

    But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

    To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

    It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

    “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

    The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

    In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

    Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

    1. Start Small

    The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

    Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

    Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

    Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

    Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

    Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

    It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

    Do less today to do more in a year.

    2. Stay Small

    There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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    But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

    If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

    When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

    I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

    Why?

    Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

    The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

    Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

    3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

    No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

    There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

    What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

    Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

    This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

    This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

    4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

    When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

    There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

    Peter Drucker said,

    “What you track is what you do.”

    So track it to do it — it really helps.

    But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

    5. Measure Once, Do Twice

    Peter Drucker also said,

    “What you measure is what you improve.”

    So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

    For reading, it’s 20 pages.
    For writing, it’s 500 words.
    For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
    For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

    Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

    6. All Days Make a Difference

    Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

    Will two? They won’t.

    Will three? They won’t.

    Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

    What happened? Which one made you fit?

    The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

    No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

    7. They Are Never Fully Automated

    Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

    But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

    What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

    It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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    The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

    It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

    It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

    8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

    Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

    Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

    When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

    The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

    Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

    9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

    The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

    Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

    You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

    But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

    So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

    If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

    This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

    The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

    Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

    10. Punish Yourself

    Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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    I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

    It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

    You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

    No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

    The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

    But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

    11. Reward Yourself

    When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

    Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

    The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

    After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

    If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

    Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

    If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

    In the End, It Matters

    What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

    When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

    And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

    “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

    Keep going.

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    More Resources to Help You Build Habits

    Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
    [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
    [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
    [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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