Learning to See Clutter

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Secret FilesSometimes my clients have trouble identifying what their clutter is. Here's a case in point. The desk and counters of Dave's office are piled fairly densely, making it hard for him to work. I select a pile at random and here's what happened.

Me: Dave, what's this pile?

Dave: Those are binders from our spring conference.

Me: Is there a reason you're keeping them?

Dave: That's our biggest conference of the year.

Me: Right, but do you need 14 copies?

Dave: Well, sometimes people ask me for them.

Me: Do you have it available electronically?

Dave: Oh, yes. It's on the website as a PDF.

Me: Would it be okay to direct people who want a copy to download the PDF?

Dave: Sure, I guess so.

Me: So do you still need all these copies?

Dave: We always keep copies. Every year.

Me: Is there some other purpose you'll be using them for?

Dave: Um, no. We just, uh, keep them. The extras.

Me: So when you go to create this year's binder, you won't refer to these?

Dave: No, I have all the files on my computer, the templates and stuff.

Me: What if you just keep one copy in your archive files? How would that be?

Dave: Yeah, I suppose one is enough.

Me: Where would be a logical place to keep it?

Dave (looking sheepish): Can't leave it on the counter, I guess?

Me: Well, you probably won't need it anytime soon and you don't want it to get buried under a pile. How about filing it with other documents from the spring conference?

Dave (relieved): Oh, yeah. That makes sense.

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This is the source of a lot of desk clutter; papers that were important last week or five months ago, but aren't now. They need to be tossed out or filed away. Paper like this very quickly becomes part of the backdrop in your office. Because it started out being important, you forget to question its presence.

Start questioning. Leave the room and come back in. Investigate the first pile you see. Does it have a compelling reason to be there; i.e. it's important to your current work? If not, is it worth keeping at all? Be ruthless, especially if you have electronic copies.

Declutter Your Reading List

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Cover design2 It's book chapter Wednesday. Here you go! Like it? You can buy the ebook here.

Simple Way #9

Reading List

Reading material constitutes a lot of the paper that people struggle with. If you get two daily newspapers, a few weekly magazines and 5-6 monthly publications, your reading pile gets high very quickly. Clipping articles for later is a good strategy, but it’s also time consuming and recommended only for important information you can’t get elsewhere or will use immediately.

Keep your paper stacks under control by making sure you allow time to read all that you subscribe to and when you can’t, that you get rid of back issues to make room for the new ones. This requires being honest about how much time you can and will devote to reading. Newspapers and news magazines should be the first to go because they become obsolete so quickly.

Right now:
If you still have yesterday’s newspaper or last week’s magazines, put them in the recycling now.