Ultimate Spring Cleaning, Day 18: The Office

by Michael on April 8, 2010 · 0 comments

If even the guys at, um, Rectal Elf can keep their office tidy, so can you. (Photo by adactio)

Ultimate Spring Cleaning is a project to clean and declutter not only your house, but your life. Each day you’ll get a housecleaning assignment, an assignment that involves the world around you, and a project to clear your mind. You can start anytime at the Ultimate Spring Cleaning main page.

Your Home: Clean Your Office Area

Almost everyone has a space in their home where they take care of business. It may have a proper desk or it may just be were the laptop happens to sit. It might even be an entire room, like my place. The task for the next few days is to clean your workspace, tame your paperwork and have your computer running lean and mean.

We’ll start out with decluttering the space. This is going to work about the same way as cleaning your living room, but on a smaller scale:

  1. Clean out any shelves or cabinets, and clean off any surfaces. Wipe down everything with a multi-surface cleaner.
  2. With your big pile of stuff (except paperwork), do the same sorting process you did in the living area. Be ruthless.
  3. Now go through all those papers. You may have a handful or you may have an enormous filing cabinet—that’s why you get three days for this. Toss any paperwork you don’t need, or that you can easily look up online (bank statements, bills). Be ruthless.
  4. Shred any papers with sensitive information. If it’s a lot, bag it up and find a local service to shred it for you.
  5. If you have a lot of loose papers, get some file folders, a labelmaker and (if necessary) a file box or cabinet—you want to be able to put these papers out of sight, in an organized fashion. We’ll do this tomorrow.
  6. Make sure any office supplies are usable and clean: toss the exploded pens and scissors too rusty to cut properly. Get a caddy or even a plain old coffee mug to hold your pens, pencils and other office supplies.

As I mentioned, we’ll tackle organizing your paperwork tomorrow.

Your World: Look at Your Commitments

What are your commitments? Do you belong to organizations that ask for your time? Are you trying to start a side business? Do you sit on your homeowners’ association board or coach a kids’ soccer team?

Now’s the time to review your responsibilities and commitments. You looked at your daily commitments on Day 15, but you’re probably left with some things you do on a weekly, monthly or irregular basis. That’s what you’ll take on now.

Take a sheet of paper or open a document on the computer and start making a list:

  1. List everything for which you’ve made a scheduled time commitment on a recurring basis.
  2. List every organization and club you belong to.
  3. List your mental commitments: people who, if they were to call you and ask you to do something for them, you would feel obligated to help. Try to include a ballpark figure of how much time per month you spend on each mental commitment.
  4. You can take this even further and you can list your commitments to yourself, including chores, but this is optional.
  5. Now circle everything you see as iron-clad commitments that only you can handle.
  6. Double-underline all of the commitments that helps you further your life goals.
  7. Single-underline all of the commitments you take on for enjoyment.
  8. For every item that’s not circled or underlined, consider discontinuing or diminishing that commitment.
  9. If you’ve listed chores and other commitments to yourself, think about whether you can outsource those chores (hire a lawnmowing service, use a laundry instead of washing your clothes yourself).

If you’ve got plenty of time in your life, this is more an exercise for prioritization. However, if you find that there doesn’t seem to be enough space to breathe, this should give you an idea of what you should consider cutting from your life to make room for the good stuff.

Yourself: Stop Procrastinating

My hope with Ultimate Spring Cleaning is that you’re doing each exercise as it comes up. However, if you’re finding yourself putting off these tasks or other items in your life, you want to address the issue right now.

There’s no doubt that some procrastinators are all but paralyzed by their feelings of dread. Psychology Today calls those feelings “a huge tidal wave of negative emotions that overwhelms us.” Those of us who don’t procrastinate may not believe that, but it’s true. And what happens then is we find something else to do, hang on to an excuse for waiting, then either rush the task just before the deadline or wait until it becomes so big that we wish we’d tackled it much earlier.

So resolve right now to take on your most feared tasks. Here’s some help:

  • Make a task list, ranked from the most important to least. If two or more tasks are of equal importance, rank the most dreaded task higher. Update the list each day. Put it somewhere you won’t fail to see it.
  • Jump into the fire. When it’s time to work on your list, do your most dreaded task first. Don’t read e-mail. Don’t get coffee. Start.
  • Take just one step. Don’t think of a large task as a huge deal. Break it down into steps, and do just the first step. Then ask yourself if it was so bad. If not, take the next step, and so on. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits uses what he calls the “30/10 Method”: 1) Set a timer to do 30 minutes of your task. 2) When the timer goes off, do 10 minutes of your favorite activity. 3) Repeat.
  • Reward yourself when you’re done with a difficult or dreaded task. Get a muffin with that coffee. Get out of the office for 15 minutes and take a walk outside. Buy yourself some new tunes.

The common finding among people who have successfully battled procrastination is that when completed, a feared task was never quite as bad as they thought it would be. The key is to stop playing mind games with yourself. It’s within your power to do virtually anything you challenge yourself to do.

As a great Jedi master once said: Do, or do not. There is no “try.” Do just a little, and don’t be surprised if it ends up being a lot.

And if it all gets too overwhelming, meditate. In fact, do that anyway. See you tomorrow.

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