One of the things which proved to be an eye-opener for me is the fact that clutter (digital, physical, mental and any form for that matter) plays an important role in bringing down one's over all productivity due to various reasons.
Below are forms of clutter in my life and how I have been tackling them lately (again, the below are specific to me and not many people might have them in their life):
- Digital Clutter in the form of over-flowing mails: I have a separate huge blog post saved in the drafts at the time of this writing. While I really want to spend quality time explaining to you on how to manage your inbox (in a different blog post later) , I would like you to be aware of the ill-effects of overflowing mails. While this may not be a problem for many of us, it did prove to be a huge productivity sucker in my case.
Mail inbox, both personal and official, are the easiest to become cluttered. You can blame that on technology for having brought this kind of ease in delivering information.
The ill-effects of digital clutter is that, applications such as email clients become a burden over a period of time, rather than being a tool which enhances your professional and personal life.
Solution: First of all, do a clean up once to archive and delete all your old mails which are older than 2 months.
Second, unsubscribe from newsletters and mail groups which you haven't been reading for the past 1 month.
Third, Set rules to sort your mails into different folders (or flag them accordingly) to enable you to process the least important ones quickly. When you clear the least important ones quickly, it has 2 advantages - one, you gain immediate confidence due to the fact that you cleared a bulk of your mails real quick. Two, you have cleared the least important ones, so you do not procrastinate reading the important ones by going back to the least important ones (you have none now).
Fourth, you don't have to read every line in mails which are the obvious BAU (Business-As-Usual) mails and mails in which you are copied as a part of the group. You can right away mark them as read.
Fifth, you don't have to respond to a mail using a mail. Some conversations are easily solved by picking up the phone and using your chat software.
Lastly, use a different email account for subscribing to newsletters and for registering at different websites.
- Digital Clutter in the form of a crowded PC Desktop: I bet this a problem for most of us. Desktops have become a convenient way to access the most important files, folders and applications. But it has also become the most convenient place to dump most of the temporaraly files, folders and application shortcuts. To some extent, the application developers are responsible for this confusion.
Though some may argue that dumping as much they want in the desktop enhances productivity, I always believe that it is a source for confusion, iritation and worry for many. Simple analogy is a usual physical desk of yours. Given a choice for your physical desk, how many of your would choose to have a clean and empty desk as against a crowded desk with all the documents spread on it. Thats the same case for the PC Desktop.
Solution: First step: Start to clean up your existing desktop. Create a folder called Desktop2 and dump all the files and folders into it. This is the most quickest way to clear the clutter. Then delete all the unwanted application shortcuts. If you haven't clicked on a shortcut in the past 1 month, then there is a slim chance that you would do that now.
Then make sure you create one or two folders to store the temporaray files and folders that you may access very often.
Next step is to make sure you are consicious about not saving folders in the desktop directly. Make sure you save them in the one of the folders you have in your desktop.
I usually have one folder in which I dump all my files and two text files - contacts.txt and to-do.txt.
- Digital Clutter in the form of SMS: I hope, at least off late, agree with me on this. I receive on a average at least 20 SMS advertisements. Some times, even more. And on top of that, I also receive at least 10 more SMSs because I have subscribed with my bank, shop or some online service (Google, Twitter, etc.) to receive them.
SMS becomes a problem over a period of time, especially if you have a phone which does not allow you to easily delete your SMSs. For example, my low-end Nokia phone allows me to very painfully delete SMS on at a time.
Solution: First of all, unsubscribe your self from all the services where you had chosen to receive the SMSs. Second, block the unwanted sms by calling your phone operator and asking them to block numbers which are spamming your sms inbox. Third, if you have a more sophisticated phone, then you may install a free sms spam filter software. Fourth, don't ever disclose your phone number any website or in the back of your cheques or other physical forms. The second one (cheques) is the most common place for spammers to pickup your numbers.
- Digital and/or Physical Clutter in the form of multiple sources of Information: I have had this problem of thousands of news articles from hundreds of RSS sources cluttering my RSS News Reader (I use Google Reader).
That apart, you would have subscribed for a newsletter from lots of news sites. This especially does dual harm. Not only does it clutter your inbox, but also forms a part of information clutter.
Another more common form of clutter is multiple magazines and newspapers. They tend to easly clutter your living room and tables.
Solution: If you have been reading news from a particular site, then you are not going to read them any time in future. You go ahead and remove them from your RSS news reader and/or from your list of favorites.
Unsubscribe yourself from all the newsletters that haven't read for the past 1 month. Again, your wouldn't be reading them anytime in future.
Lastly, try to stay with one particular website and/or newspaper and/or magazine and see if you are able to read/consume every bit of information in it. Most probably, that should be good enough for you to know. Also, remember, most of the news sites and papers repeat the same news. So if you have read it here, then you wouldn't want to be reading it in a different from to finally realize that you just wasted your time.
- Digital Clutter in the form of social networking: No No.. I am not saying not go on Facebook! Social networking is required and sometimes encouraged... especially in these days where life has become hectic and our chances of physically networking has become slim.
But what I am saying is that, you don't have to be network with the same friends in multiple different sites such as facebook, myface, orkut, twitter, etc.
Again, this may not apply for everyone, but it did apply for me :). I had and still have a major problem consolidating so many different social networking platforms.
As of today, I am available on Facebook (relatively active), Twitter and LinkedIn.
Solution: Consolidate. Try to join the social networking site where most of your friends/colleagues are. Invite them to join your social networking site/group.
If you still have to leave a status message in 2/3 different sites where your friends are divided, then try using a software which can do this in one shot. For example, I leave my status in Facebook and Twitter in one shot using TweetDeck.
- Digital Clutter in the form of multiple email accounts: I had around 7 to 8 different personal email accounts with different providers. Again, this may not be the case with everyone.
As of today, I have 2 active accounts and 2 more less active ones as backup.
Solution: No big deal again. Just consolidate your multiple accounts into 2 email accounts. One is for your real communication with family, friends and colleagues. Second one is for subscribing to newsletters (if you absolutely need to do that) and using them to register at different sites. Usually you don't have to worry about consolidating your multiple email accounts. If you don't access them for some days/months, your account automatically gets disabled and your mails cleared :)).
- Physical Clutter in the form of bank and credit card statements: I receive so many statements, from Banks especially, that I had lost interest in reading them entirely. Since, I realized that some of these letters are important, I use to conveniently stack them away at multiple places - my home desk, side tables, office bag, etc.
Over a period of time, you realize that you have so much clutter everywhere because of these statements.
Solution: Go green! Now a days, banks give you an option of going green by choosing to receive statements in your email inbox (of course, banks want to cut down the cost by saving paper and shipping charges). Just go with this option. Receiving statements in your mail is very convenient and reduces your physical clutter a lot.
Don't procrastinate processing these statement: Reading them immediately and either tear them upfront and file them if you really them. Filing them is better than stacking them away in different places without even removing it from the envelope.
To be continued.. (I have so much to write but I can't wait to share this with you immediately. Will keep updating this post).