5 Steps to Staying Organized and Eliminating Clutter

by Staff on June 8, 2009

cluttered desk

You can have a focused and uncluttered life. It just takes a few simple steps consistently followed to stay organized and keep clutter from creating stress and sapping your productivity.

1. Toss most of it, Organize what’s left.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your closet, your email inbox or your schedule, whenever you have a lot of stuff to organize most of it can simply be thrown out. If you have 10 projects on your plate today and you just pick the two most important, you don’t need to organize your schedule anymore. Same with your closet – take 100 articles of clothing and reduce it down the 15 you actually wear and your closet has organized itself.

2. Give your stuff a home.

Every object in your home or office has a home, a place it belongs when it’s not in use. I like to “clean as I go”, meaning when I find something not in its home, I take a few seconds to put it there. Now I never waste time looking for things and I find living/working in an uncluttered environment much less stressful.

The same goes for your computer. Is your computer desktop covered in 200 icons? That’s a sure sign you’re not putting your information in it’s proper home. Get all your data organized into its proper folders and use a tool like AutoHotkey to launch you programs from the keyboard rather than hunting around for some icon on your desktop.

I apply this thinking to my schedule as well. If I’m spending time with my family, I’m not thinking about that big project I’ve got due at work. Otherwise, I’m not really with my family, I’m working off the clock in my family’s presence. Thoughts have a proper home too, although they’re trickier to organize.

3. One inbox to rule them all, always processed to empty.

Keeping multiple inboxes, email addresses, sticky notes pasted around your office, messages writing in various notebooks – it all adds up to more stuff to keep track of.

Use one physical inbox to keep track of handwritten notes, snail mail, or any other hardcopies. Redirect all my various emails (work, personal) to a single Gmail account where you can process everything at once. And make sure to get each inbox to empty by the end of the day.

You don’t have to complete every task in your inbox immediately, but you need to follow the “drop it, delegate it, do it, defer it” rule.

That means processing every item in your inbox and…

  • Dumping anything you don’t really need
  • Handing off anything that can be delegated
  • Doing it right away if it’ll take less than two minutes
  • Setting up reminders to do longer projects later.

4. Get it out of your head and onto the paper.

Any tasks or ideas you have floating around in your head are “open loops”, consuming precious mental cycles and stressing you out needlessly. Get them out of your head and off your mind so you have more time and brain-power to think about what’s important.

I carry a small notebook and write down everything as it comes to me, then do a “brain dump” a few times a week to get all those ideas organized on my calendar and to-do lists. I enjoy the time with my family more because I’m actually present with them, not repeatedly going over the details of some project in my mind.

5. Design systems to keep you organized.

Once you get organized, you’ve got to stay organized. Chaos in the universe is always increasing, and if you don’t fight against it you’ll soon find your neat, organized environment quickly disorganized again.

Turning your organization systems into a consistent routine and writing them down keeps them from unraveling. It doesn’t matter if it’s the way you process your inbox (once daily for me), organize your to-do lists (twice a week), exercise (three times a week), make sure you stay with that system.

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