First let me start by saying I detest articles on productivity. And yes, I appreciate the hypocrisy given that I am writing and indeed about to publish one on that exact topic but first let me explain:
My mission is all about helping people quit the chaos- right? I want our culture to stop glorifying busy-ness and overloaded schedules and begin to value simplifying and slowing our lives. I want us to notice the small things, make time to do what lights us up and take the occasional nap. However, most people will say they don't have time to be slow. They can't take a nap, read a book or go for a meandering wander in the woods because there is SO much that they need to get done. So I am here, as the begrudging bearer of productivity advice with the sole purpose of helping you make more time for wandering, book reading and naps (or indeed whatever it is that you wish to have more time for). Now, back to that advice I was going to share...
Most of us would be aware of the phrase so often touted by professional organisers (ahem- I may have even used it once or twice myself) that:
“Clutter is symptomatic of delayed decision making.” Cynthia Kyriazis
What does this mean? Essentially when you are not committed to making a decision about a physical item, if you are to keep it, throw it out, sell it, find a home for it, reuse it or simply put it away then you are creating clutter. The inability to decide now on what to do with something creates physical and often mental clutter via your inaction.
You can visualise this in the form of mail opened but not filed or shredded, your old school year-books which you cant decide whether to put in storage or just throw out, the bike that has been outgrown but you aren't sure if you want to sell it or donate it, emails read but not responded to, bills received but not paid, new clothes still with tags left on. All of these add up to cluttered spaces through inaction. There are often tens (if not hundreds) of micro decisions about everything we come into contact with, just waiting to be made. It is all this indecision which could be clogging our brains and getting in the way of us being our most productive selves. And it's not just indecision about physical items that slow us down, many of us carry indecision about tasks or administration, work scenarios and even relationships.
Our brains are highly effective processing tools. Often we let our emotions and (let's be honest) lazy-ness prevent our brains doing what they do best, which is analysing and making decisions. We mistakenly believe that if we put the decision off for an hour, a day or even many years, that decision will be easier to make in future. We believe we are trading hard decisions now for easy decisions later but this is a false bargain. Things that are easy to decide on now, like "What should I buy Mum for her birthday?" or "Do I keep or throw out this letter now that I've read it?" will be just as easy in two weeks time. Similarly, hard decisions like, "How should I respond to that complaint without upsetting the client further?" and "What should I do with our old, but expensive, camping gear?" will be just as difficult in week or a year's time as they are now, maybe even more so because you might have additional time pressure.
Whether you have multitudes of un-actioned items laying around your home or un-actioned tasks floating around in your head they distract you, add a feeling of stress or overwhelm and lower your productivity. So what can we do to resolve this? It's this simple: If you are touching something or thinking about something, acknowledge that you're already half way to deciding. Your brain has connected with it. If you are reading your email, knowing you have to respond, then decide how you will respond and better yet, do it immediately. You are already one step down the path as soon as you are engaged with that item or task . You are instantaneously cognitively involved. Why not stay involved, make the decision and get it done? Otherwise you leave it and have to come back later and take more time to get reacquainted with the detail of that task or item to formulate your decision. Your head knows when you have many unmade decisions and this weighs on us and slows us down.
When you're walking in from the mailbox with the gas bill in your hand, is it so much more of a stretch to just reach for your phone and transfer the money to pay for it? Then you can throw the bill out and the problem is done. No brain space wasted on that bill. Otherwise, you put it down, shuffle it around on the kitchen bench for a week or two, have to keep the due date in your head or take the extra action of writing it on the calendar and then come back to it at some point to pay it. Don't put any more unnecessary steps in the process between viewing the thing and dealing with the thing. When extra steps are put into simple processes, over and over that all adds up to a huge time suck.
When you have engaged your brain enough to think that you need to make a decision about something, use that cognitive momentum to actually make the decision. And even better - act on it. It is the process of connecting, disconnecting and then reconnecting at a later time, plus carrying the mental load of unmade decisions that is inefficient and unproductive.
If you just keep your focus in one direction until you see a problem or decision through, you'll find levels of efficiency you hadn't imagined. If you don't have the volume of time now to read and respond to emails, don't bother opening them at all. Find another task to engage with which you can see through to completion. Avoid dipping in and out of tasks or handling items and not making decisions - its killing your productivity and wasting all that valuable woods-wandering, book-reading and nap-taking time.
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